KEEPING connected is vitally important for mental wellbeing, particularly during the coronavirus crisis.
"Research shows how much humans benefit from human connections," says consultant psychologist Dr Elena Touroni.
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"People who are already isolated can end up feeling chronically so, while the normally very sociable struggle with freedom being curtailed."
That's why The Sun's You're Not Alone campaign has launched a series to raise awareness of the pandemic's effect on mental wellbeing.
Just because we're isolating and socially distancing doesn't mean that we have to be lonely.
In fact, the coronavirus lockdown is an excellent opportunity to connect with those around us, breathing new life into old relationships and perhaps even forging some new ones.
Stuart Falconer, whose son Morgan killed himself aged 15 says: "We've all got to take responsibility, not just for ourselves but for people around us. We live in a global community where we're supposed to look out for each other,"
Here are simple things you can do to stay connected and maintain relationships during lockdown:
Join the volunteer army
Volunteering is a great way to spend time with others and, at a time of national crisis, it's an extremely worthwhile use of your time.
Research shows that it can also benefit you, too, by boosting your sense of self-worth and giving you a feeling of purpose.
So far, an army of over 700,000 volunteers have signed up to help the NHS, but there are plenty of other things you can get involved with.
Britain is currently trying to recruit a new 'Land Army' to help feed the nation in the coming summer months.
Tens of thousands of people are needed to pick crops to cover for missing seasonal workers – you can sign up here or here.
If you specifically want to help the NHS, you can do so here.
It's looking for people who are over 18, fit and well with no symptoms.
Those in high-risk groups like the over 70s or people with underlying health conditions can still help out by offering support over the phone.
Other examples of organisations you can get involved with can be found here.
Digital dinner parties & virtual pub quizzes
Tom Chapman is the founder of mental health and suicide prevention charity, The Lions Barber Collective.
He says: "It may be difficult to connect with others in times of social distancing, however we have incredible levels of tech in our very hands right now and we need to use them to stay in touch.
"We have a multitude of video calls which can be used one to one or with well into double figures, so why not have a dinner party and have everyone dial in together, or even a game of cards, you could even do an online workout with your gym buddy.
"There are also some great groups going on, on Facebook, which you can join as a viewer and contribute with comments in a live chat.
"Some people local to me in Torbay have started a virtual pub and have had live DJs, music even cooking classes, it's been fantastic."
If you're wanting to join a pub quiz of your own, the Houseparty app has its own built in quiz option, or you can write your own questions and challenge your mates on a free video conferencing platform.
Here are the best options for video calling:
Video conferencing app Zoom has seen a huge spike in downloads in recent weeks making it one of the most popular free apps in the world.
Although designed for business meetings, people with cabin fever have hijacked the platform to chat – and have a pint – with their pals, all without leaving the isolation of their homes.
You can also use Zoom to send files and share your screen if you need to.
But the free version will cut video meetings of three or more people out after 40 minutes.
Zoom works on desktop and on iPhone and Android, but it's certainly more geared for computers than mobile devices.
Unlike Zoom, Houseparty was purpose built to be fun.
Which is probably why younger Gen Z smartphone users have been flocking in droves to it during the lockdown.
Houseparty is a video chat social network which allows users to speak to up to eight friends at a time.
It also boasts built-in games and quizzes.
But Houseparty’s real USP is that, unlike other video conferencing apps, you can jump into other chats even if you’re not invited, unless the room has been specifically ‘locked’.
It works better on phones than it does on desktops – which is probably why the Snapchat generation prefer it to anything else.
Hangouts is an easy-to-use video calling option from Google.
Anyone with a Google account can easily setup a meeting with their friends, with a maximum capacity of 25 people on the free version.
It's definitely more straightforward to use than Zoom but it's also a lot less fun than Houseparty.
Not a smartphone whizz?
Don't worry – it's really easy getting hold of all these apps.
You can download Zoom, Houseparty, Google Hangouts, and Skype easily to your phone.
On Apple devices, they're all available for free on the App Store.
Android users can find them on their respective app stores too, like Google Play and the Galaxy Store.
Once installed, open the app up and create or sign-in to your accounts.
And that's it!
Apple users with iPhones and iPads already have FaceTime ready to go on their devices.
The big draw here is it’s dead easy to use – you don't have to invite anyone to join the call, you just dial them like you would for a normal voice call.
But the major downside is that you can only use it to contact other people with Apple devices.
Although it's the daddy of video chat, Skype has fallen out of favour among younger users who want simpler options.
It's clunky to use on phones for video meetings and you need to have a Skype account to use it.
Take your hobby online
Also, why not try taking something you normally do offline into cyberspace?
You could join a book club, learn a new skill, or enjoy an educational course remotely through Khan Academy.
People are going online for choir practices and even knitting lessons. Jamkazam is a real-time jamming platform to play music with other musicians and lots of singers of all abilities have signed up to choirmaster Gareth Malone's Great British Home Chorus.
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