The Mental Health Foundations chosen theme for this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week was ‘Relationships’. The Mental Health Foundation described maintaining positive relationships as being fundamental to good health and wellbeing.
Although most of us enjoy spending some time alone, loneliness has been described as a ‘modern epidemic’. Research carried out by Age NI revealed that one in three older people reported feeling lonely and as having no one for help or support (Age NI 2015). In 2010, the Mental Health Foundation found that those under the age of 34 were very likely to feel lonely often, to worry about feeling alone and to feel depressed because of loneliness. Research carried out by Action for Children in 2015 revealed 1 in 5 NI parents felt ‘cut off’ and ‘lonely’. The evidence would indicate that loneliness is something we are all vulnerable to throughout our life, regardless of age or circumstances.
Even more concerning is that the case for the harmful effects of loneliness on our mental and physical health continues to grow. Studies have revealed that the effect of loneliness and isolation on mortality exceeds the impact of well-known risk factors such as obesity, and has a similar influence as cigarette smoking (Holt-Lunstad, 2010). It has also been reported that lonely individuals are more prone to depression (Cacioppo et al, 2006). It is clear to see then, why we are being encouraged to spend time and energy forming and maintaining good relationships.
However, this is not always an easy task in our busy world. The demands of work and our preoccupation with modern technology can significantly reduce the amount of time we spend really engaging with the people around us. If we treat forming good relationships (and avoiding harmful ones) as important as eating healthy and exercising, we will hopefully start to see the positive effects. Just as with the latter however, it will take time and effort on our behalf. For example stopping to catch up with a colleague in the office, taking time in the evenings to switch off the TV, put down our phones and spend time talking with our partners and family. Keeping in touch with friends and meeting up on a regular basis.
Whether you are someone who is content with a small social circle or someone who prefers a large group of varied acquaintances – we all need to put effort into maintaining these connections. As emphasised by the The New Economics Foundation (NEF) Five Ways to Wellbeing, of which ‘Connect’ is one; relationships with family, friends, colleagues and neighbours etc. are the cornerstones of our lives and building on these connection will support and enrich us every day.
If you would like to learn more about the ‘Five Ways to Wellbeing’ why not contact TFY MensSana who provide free workshops and training on the topic.
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