We’ve been asking you to do #OneKindThing to change someone’s world.

And we know, changing someone’s world can seem like a huge, sometimes impossible, task. But we know it can be done, because of stories from people like Andy and Ian.

Coming home after a tough time in hospital can be quite an isolating experience. Only you know what you’ve been through, and you can feel quite different within yourself. This is exactly what happened to Andy.

Andy’s from Bristol, and he’s living with bowel cancer. After his diagnosis, he had to undergo surgery at the hospital before returning home – which is when he began to feel lonely, and as if he had no one to turn to.

“When I got home from hospital, I honestly felt like I was on a completely different planet. I didn’t recognise anything anymore, and I thought, ‘well, I’m just coming here to die and that’s going to be pretty lonely,’” Andy told us. “I looked at my bed and I thought, ‘I’m going to die in that’.”

 

Loneliness: “you lose all your emotions”

© Joel Redman/British Red Cross

Andy, who was helped by Ian’s kindness, sits on his bed writing in a notebook.

Andy was feeling disconnected from everything and everyone. And this total absence of human contact left him with an overwhelming sense of loneliness.

“When you’re lonely, when you’re lost, you lose all your emotions. You’re numb. You don’t feel anything, you don’t think, you’re just empty,” he said. “I was in crisis. I couldn’t speak, I couldn’t move. I was on my own. Loneliness is a dreadful place to find yourself in. It’s a killer.”

Loneliness can have a really harmful effect on both your physical and mental health. Research shows that many people who experience loneliness are at risk of developing problems like insomnia, over or under-eating, anxiety, stress and negative thoughts.

There’s also a chance they’ll have lower energy, weaker social skills, or be exercising a lot less, which can worsen any physical illnesses they may be experiencing at the time.

A lifeline: “Whatever you need me to be, I will be”

Andy and Ian, the British Red Cross volunteer who supported him, sit smiling with their arms around each other.

In the middle of this cloud of loneliness, British Red Cross volunteer Ian was able to give Andy a lifeline. He volunteers for our First Call service – a hospital and community-based service that supports people to regain their independence and build their confidence.

Andy talks of the immediate impact that Ian had on his life – and the impact was huge.

“Once we had our first cup of tea, he sat down there and said to me, ‘whatever you need me to be, I will be.’ And that’s all I needed.”

All it took for Andy to take his first step towards feeling better was simply some interaction with someone else, chatting over a cup of tea.

“I can remember smiling at something he said and thinking, ‘I can’t remember the last time I did that.’ By smiling, I recognised that I still worked as a human being – I can still feel laughter and humour; I can still feel love.”

Physical health, mental health and kindness

A close-up of Andy's hands in his lap. Andy was helped by British Red Cross volunteer Ian.

Emotional support from Ian had a hugely positive effect on Andy’s life.

Dr Sarah Davidson heads up a team of British Red Cross staff and volunteers trained to support people, wherever they are in the world, when crisis hits.

She says, “Increasingly we’re seeing how emotional support is as vital as water, food, shelter and cash, to help people start to recover. And kindness is at the heart of that because it connects us to each other.”

Andy speaks about how his health and wellbeing is all connected, too.

“The NHS saved my physical life. The Red Cross and Ian saved my soul. And my heart. And the parts of me that make me who I am.”

Your #OneKindThing

A British Red Cross volunteer and a man sit outside a house on a bench and laugh together while drinking tea.

Andy says, “To feel so lost, so detached from life, and then to get that ‘Welcome back’ invitation… it sounds like a simple thing but it was almost like a permission to get better.”

All Ian did was give his time for Andy to feel this way.

We want to keep making stories like these happen. We want to keep connecting volunteers like Ian with people like Andy. We want to make sure that the homes of lonely people – no matter who they are or what they’ve gone through – are filled with conversation, laughter and cups of tea.

And it all starts with one kind thing. Like Andy said, it does sound simple. But by giving someone a little of your time, you can help pull them out of a dark place, making them feel connected again. Find out how you can get involved with helping lonely people.

That’s just one kind thing you can do, but there are plenty more – choose yours here.

 

Photo credits: Joel Redman, Mimi Mollica, British Red Cross