The Value of Connection : A Mental Health Perspective 

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By Catherine St. Denis

Building a social network helps aid in the improvement of the lives of people with mental illnesses. After years of working with people with mood disorders, we at the Mood Disorders Association of BC believe that not only do social networks improve the lives of people with mood disorders, sometimes social networks can save lives.

Staff at the MDABC frequently hear, “The support group saved my life” and, “I don’t know what I’d do without the support of this program”. We take these little nuggets and store them away knowing that opportunities for social networking and support are crucial to an improvement, or lack of decline in mental health; this is what we hear and see around us all the time. These messages come from people in our peer support groups, our Cognitive Behavioural Therapy classes and in our workshops.

There are many reasons that connecting with others in meaningful ways is helpful. Connection with others reduces the isolation people with mood disorders often feel. Connection with others helps us learn about our illness through the informal or formal learning one gets from talking to others. When we connect with others with similar concerns we know we are not alone in our feelings and behaviours; others have also struggled with our issues. When we connect with supportive loved ones we can feel their caring and compassion and can realize that no matter how we feel on the inside, no matter how great our symptoms are, there are people who really care for and love us. When we are in the throes of active symptoms of our illness it is very challenging at times to feel and believe that we are loved and cared about so this connection can be a perfect reminder.

There are other ways of connecting even if one does not have a circle of family and friends. The MDABC offers peer support groups, classes and workshops so that people can make these important connections. There are members of some groups who have become friends and who have formed close, mutually beneficial relationships that have enhanced their lives. Connection does not have to mean personal relationships either. When we volunteer or enter or re-enter the workforce we have opportunities to connect with others and there are hundreds of organizations that look for volunteers throughout the year, for either short or long term positions.

When we attend lectures, discussion groups, or entertainment events we can connect with others for brief periods, this can make the difference between a bad day and a good one. Of course just being around others is not enough if we keep to ourselves and don’t make efforts to talk, make eye contact or add to a discussion, this is the part of connection that takes some effort. If we want to have friends, colleagues, supportive family members and other relationships, no matter how brief, we must take our fears and discomfort in hand and experiment. We won’t connect with everyone all the time but the more one makes efforts to connect the more chance of it happening.

For more information about the programs and services the MDABC has to help you connect please visit our website at www.mdabc.net.

For more information about opportunities to volunteer with other organizations please visit Go Volunteer at http://govolunteer.ca/.

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