Next week, 10-18 October is Mental Health week in a number of states in Australia. The theme for this year is taking time for mental health. What better way is there to take time for our own mental health and contribute to the mental health of others other than spending time with people and feeling connected?
Social connections are an important part of managing our psychological wellbeing. The connections that we have with others can help us in a number of different ways.
What is social connection?
Social connection is the subjective experience of feeling close to and a sense of belongingness with others.
Social connection improves physical health and mental and emotional well-being. Human beings are inherently social creatures. Social groups provide us with an important part of our identity, and more than that, they teach us a set of skills that help us to live our lives. Feeling socially connected, especially in an increasingly isolated world, is more important than ever. The benefits of social connectedness shouldn’t be overlooked.
Benefits of high social connections include:
- Boosting your mental health: Friendships offer a number of mental health benefits, such as increased feelings of belonging, purpose, increased levels of happiness, reduced levels of stress, improved self-worth and confidence. One study found that people with insufficient perceived social support were the most likely to suffer from mental health disorders like anxiety and depression.
- Helping you live longer: Research has shown that social connections not only impact your mental health, but your physical health as well, with stronger social relationships promoting an increased likelihood of survival. This remained true across a number of factors, including age, sex, initial health status, and cause of death.
- Decreasing your risk of suicide: There are a number of factors that put people at higher or lower risk for suicide. One of these factors is connectedness, as relationships can play a crucial role in protecting a person against suicidal thoughts and behaviors.
People who feel more connected to others have lower levels of anxiety and depression. Moreover, studies show they also have higher self-esteem, greater empathy for others, are more trusting and cooperative and, as a consequence, others are more open to trusting and cooperating with them. In other words, social connectedness generates a positive feedback loop of social, emotional and physical well-being.
Unfortunately, the opposite is also true for those who lack social connectedness. Low levels of social connection are associated with declines in physical and psychological health as well as a higher likelihood for antisocial behavior that leads to further isolation.
Fear not! The good news is that social connection has more to do with your subjective feeling of connection than your number of friends. You could have 1,000 friends and still feel low in connection (thus the expression loneliness in a crowd) but you could also have no close friends or relatives but still feel very connected from within.
If you’re not sure how to begin forming social connections start by looking inward. What are your interests or hobbies? What kind of personalities are you naturally comfortable around? Devote time to becoming active in your community, volunteering, or joining a club or social organization and if you meet a potential friend, create an opportunity to spend time together. Mates4Mates centers and activities are perfect for connecting people together!
If you would like to find out more about social connection activities that Mates4Mates offer, or to speak to a psychologist call us on 13004MATES.
Written by Mates4Mates Psychologist Clare Mitchell