Can Social Connections Really Improve Mental Health?
The UK government has recently announced that over £3.6 million of funding will be made available for ‘social prescribing’, in a bid to ease pressure on mental health services. The scheme is designed to reduce loneliness and help people feel more connected to the local community.
In a press release, the Department of Health and Social Care claims that social prescribing can improve the mental wellbeing of people suffering from grief, dementia, loneliness, or addiction. It explains that through community based activities such as gardening and exercise classes, people can become healthier and more confident.
So, is it really the case that better social connections can improve our mental health? While some people are naturally more sociable than others, scientists believe that all human beings have an inherent need to form meaningful social relationships. This is a primal need, going back to when humans were dependent on belonging to a tribe to ensure their survival.
A widely quoted scientific study dating back to 1988 claims that humans with low quality social connections are at a greater risk of poor health than people who smoke, who have high blood pressure, or are very overweight.
Those with stronger social connections on average live longer and have more robust immune systems. They were more likely to have higher self-esteem and showed more compassion towards others, and therefore were better equipped to build happy and trusting relationships.
In today’s world, it is possible to live in much greater levels of social isolation, thanks to technology and more fragmented societies. People are more likely to live alone than ever before, whether because they move away from their home area to seek work, or because they have reached an age when friends and family are falling away.
Social isolation can be a difficult trap to climb out of, because it leads to lower levels of confidence and trust, which naturally discourages the individual to seek new connections.
However, studies have shown that loneliness is not so much caused by living alone or not having many friends or close family members, but rather it is to do with more subjective feelings about social integration.
This is why the medical sector believes that social prescribing is so valuable for mental health. By taking part in a social activity such as sports or arts and crafts, that positive feeling of belonging to a community can soon be created.
The government press release quotes Dale, who has battled addiction, but found that a social and creative outlet helped him on the road to recovery.
He says: “There’s a famous saying: ‘the opposite of addiction is connection’. For me, creative endeavour is key. Before I was consumed by addiction, I was a head singer in a choir but I let a lot of that lapse. I just want to engage again, have some sort of semblance of a life.”
“I think social prescribing is integral to what people need. You need contact with people who are different from you. Every different type of person you come across is a lesson.”
That certainly provides food for thought for anyone struggling with similar issues themselves. Some people also find that working with a trained therapist can complement any other strategies they are using to improve their mental health. If you are interested in Harley Street hypnotherapy, please get in touch today.