• Aine Boyle

Mental Health Awareness Week (8-15th May 2022




This year the theme of Mental Health Awareness week is loneliness and it may come as no surprise to many of us. During the pandemic and due to various social distancing regulations, many of us found ourselves spending more and more time on our own and losing that sense of social connectedness we had previously regularly enjoyed. We are social beings by nature and in order to thrive, both physically and mentally, we crave interaction with others.


In a 1973 study, entitled “The strength of Weak Ties”, findings showed the importance of the quantity of our social ties in addition to the quality (think of it as your inner circle and out circle). The study states “acquaintances, as compared to close friends, are more prone to move in different circles than oneself. Those to whom one is closest are likely to have the greatest overlap in contact with those one already knows, so that the information to which they are privy is likely to be much the same as that which one already has” (1). Having links to weaker ties allows us to develop new connections and gain access to information that we may not have accessed previously. Overall, it widens our social connectedness to others to develop relationships and, potentially, build a stronger support network.


Staying connected with others can take many forms including meeting in person or via social media / online and a healthy balance between the two is what we strive for. There is definitely a place for online social interactions which can often allow us to form connections with those people we previously would never interact with. However, humans flourish when being in each other’s company, hugging, enjoying uplifting positive energy that comes from others physically. A 2010 study revealed “from psychological theories to recent research, there is significant evidence that social support and feeling connected can help people maintain a healthy body mass index, control blood sugars, improve cancer survival, decrease cardiovascular mortality, decrease depressive symptoms, mitigate posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms, and improve overall mental health”. This study also found that those with less social connections were more likely to develop increased symptoms of depression and anxiety (2). Creating positive social connections can help to reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation in the longer term.


How can we improve our social connectedness to reduce feelings of loneliness and support our mental wellbeing? Last year, I joined a local swimming group and I have not looked back since. The most wonderful group of women to swim and have a laugh with in the water. This was just one thing that worked for me personally. Here are some ideas that might work for you:


1. Community / Groups: find a local group to try out something new e.g. book club, swimming, walking, hiking, singing etc. If you are nervous about going along, you can guarantee someone else (or many others) will feel exactly the same way.

2. Keeping in touch with family & friends: instead of texting or messaging, why not pick up the phone or video call someone close. Even better, arrange to meet for a walk, coffee, chat etc

3. Sign up to a course / new learning experience. If you have put this on the long finger, why not take the plunge and sign up today. Not only will you increase your knowledge but you will also increase your “weak ties” connections and who knows where that could lead.


For lots more ideas and free resources to help you, visit https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/


References:

  • The Strength of Weak Ties (Granovetter, M) https://www.cs.cmu.edu/~jure/pub/papers/granovetter73ties.pdf

  • The Connection Prescription: Using the Power of Social Interactions and the Deep Desire for Connectedness to Empower Health & Wellness https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6125010/

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