09 Jun

Relationships and Mental Health

Daughter and father

The Mental Health Foundation have released an excellent report, which you can read here, which sets out further evidence that investing in relationships is at least as important to our health and wellbeing as not smoking. Their argument, like that of Relational Thinking Network, is that  both as a society and as individuals we need urgently to prioritise relationships and tackle the barriers to forming them.

The importance of relationships for health

Looking at a range of evidence, the authors show that people who are more socially connected to family, friends, or their community are happier, physically healthier and live longer than people who are less well connected.

Indeed, a review of 148 studies concluded that:

the influence of social relationships on the risk of death are comparable with well-established risk factors for mortality such as smoking and alcohol consumption and exceed the influence of other risk factors such as physical inactivity and obesity.

They make reference to a longitudinal Harvard study, that began in 1938 and published in the 2012 book ‘Triumphs of Experience’, that found that that relationships are the most important factors for health and happiness.

Factors causing relationship problems

The report discusses a number of inter-related factors that negatively affect relationships. For example:

  • Moving away from one’s hometown, family and friends can have a very real impact on our relationships. Moving means having to adapt to a new physical and social environment. Studies suggest that one of the biggest challenges facing individuals when they move is building relationships and connecting with others.
  • Social media and other online technologies have many positives. However, the report notes that almost half of internet uses in the UK reported that the internet had not increased their contact with friends or family who had moved away.

Indeed, while they have increase our sense of belonging, online relationships cannot replace our offline relationships.

The neurochemical response that occurs during face-to-face interactions contributes to our sense of connection, understanding and ultimately wellbeing. In other words, face-to-face communication still matters.

  • Bullying can have a negative effect on people’s health. Conversely a positive experience at school, particularly with teachers, can “act as a buffer and help protect young people during this difficult time.” This is something that Relational Schools has been researching on.
  • Loneliness and isolation are a significant issue for older people. See an earlier blog post we wrote about this here.

Actions to be taken

The report ends by calling, as the Relational Thinking Network has done, for “a sea change in thinking”. We need to not only recognise the importance of relationships, (which we instinctively do), but that we take an active approach in the way we build and maintain relationships, and to tackle the barriers that prevents strong relationships from being built.

 

31 Oct

Increasing loneliness among older men calls for Relational Pensions

Oldman

LONDON/CAMBRIDGE – An increasing number of older men are experiencing isolation and loneliness, a recent study by the International Longevity Centre and the charity Independent Age suggests. This research underlines what Dr Michael Schluter and David Lee have called the need for ‘Relational Pensions’ (see The Relational Manager).

We all know what a financial pension is. We store up capital so that when we retire we have enough money to support ourselves for the rest of our lives. A relational pension works on the same basis. We need to store up ‘relational capital’, i.e. relationships with friends and family, to give us the support we need after retirement.

The study shows, that with increasing numbers of lonely older people, building these ‘relational pensions’ is absolutely crucial. While various services can be introduced, and there are many recommendations in the report, there is only so much they can do to solve loneliness and social isolation. Particularly as the numbers of isolated and lonely elderly people is rapidly increasing, services will find themselves increasingly unable to cope with the numbers. They are also unable to deal completely with the need, as while relationships can be encouraged and fostered, they can’t be legislated. The big need is for families and friends to stay connected to look after each other in old age.