Good relationships key to mental wellbeing

World mental health week 2016: Relationships

Good relationships key to mental wellbeing
13 May 2016

Every year, thousands of supporters across the UK take part in Mental Health Awareness Week. This year the week will take place from May 16-22 on the theme of relationships.

Good mental health can’t happen without healthy and supportive relationships in our lives - they add to our wellbeing and help us thrive. Friends and family form our most precious relationships – they share our hopes, fears, confidence and happiness and, most importantly, keep us going when we need that extra support.

Without these relationships we have no one to talk to and no one who will listen to us. How do we cope with the challenges life and our mental health throw at us without friends and family around us?

When you suffer from a mental illness, friendship and family play a key role in our recovery. When someone is unwell, they may not want to see their friends, but it’s important those people stay in their lives to stop those feelings of complete isolation. Friends worry when they see a loved one in distress or feeling unwell but it’s important to keep supporting them – in the long run it can make your relationship stronger.

So how does mental health affect friendship? Well, according to the Mental Health Foundation:
• People with more severe forms of mental illness have smaller social networks than others and have more family members than friends in their social circle.
• People with smaller social networks, with fewer intimate relationships, find it more difficult to manage social situations.
• People with more long-lasting mental health problems often have relationships mainly with other people with mental health problems.
• People with mental health problems often anticipate rejection from other people because of the stigma associated with mental health. They may avoid social contact, as a form of 'self-stigma'.
So how do you support a friend who is going through a mental health crisis? Trying to understand what they’re going through is a good start. Giving them space is also good, but make sure they know they can contact you at any time if they need support.

Be there to listen – some people are ashamed to admit they have a mental health illness. Having their issue out in the open with trusted friends and family can be a huge relief. If you don’t know much about mental health illness, it’s good to ask them about what they’re feeling and what impact it’s having on their day-to-day life. By accepting their illness and treating them with compassion, you’re helping them on their road to recovery.

Practical help, such as helping with household chores, shopping, taking their dog for a walk, is also important. A friend in mental health distress may not be able to drive whilst unwell, so offer to take them out if they’re up to it, or drive them to medical appointments. If your friend wants to be alone, keep in touch via text or social media, just to make sure they’re ok.

If you’re the person who is suffering from mental illness, there are other people you can turn to as well – self-help and peer groups are useful. Even groups where you can take part in an activity, such as exercise or a book club, are helpful. Online communities can be really helpful if you don’t want to physically meet people. You can stay anonymous but share your experiences with people who might be going through what you are experiencing.

It always important to remember that although the therapeutic relationship is important in recovery, having a friendly ear to listen to our problems and provide emotional support extends beyond therapy.

Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust
Elizabeth House, Fulbourn Hospital
Cambridge, CB21 5EF

T 01223 219400 (open 8:30am to 5pm)
F 01480 398501

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