Mental Health Awareness Week: survey reveals half of UK adults regret not investing in close relationships

Group of Friends

It’s Mental Health Awareness Week and this year the focus falls on the importance of relationships, as a new survey reveals almost half of UK adults regret not maintaining relationships – a key prevention against the development of mental health problems.

The survey reveals that this regret - stemming from an apparent failure to invest sufficient time and effort into maintaining close relationships with loved ones - is even more common in men, 50% of men surveyed said they felt this way, compared to 42% of women.

Sadly, it’s not a lack of understanding of the issue that’s the problem. The survey of 2,000 UK adults, commissioned by the Mental Health Foundation and conducted by YouGov, also reveals that 38% of respondents identified healthy relationships as 'most important' to their wellbeing, significantly ahead of eating healthily (16%), exercise (10%) and avoiding unhealthy habits, such as smoking (8%). Despite this recognition, only 11% of those who had made New Year’s resolutions cited fostering healthy relationships with friends and family their focus, compared to 40% who made improving their physical health their goal.

Girls Sitting Friends

Crucial confidante

The survey found that women are more likely to recognise the importance of having close friends with whom they could confide their problems, worries, feelings and emotions - 80% of female respondents said they recognise this need, compared to 66% of men.

The MHF says it commissioned the survey in response to a growing body of evidence that “overwhelmingly” points to good-quality relationships being key in helping us live longer, happier and healthier lives.

Jenny Edwards CBE, Chief Executive of the MHF says: "It’s time to recognise the global body of evidence which tells us that people who are more socially connected to family, friends, or their community are happier, physically healthier and live longer with fewer mental health problems.

"It’s striking that the influence of social relationships on the risk of death is comparable with well-established risk factors. We need to give ourselves permission to spend more of our time in the friendships and relationships that are core to our wellbeing."

Facebook Friends

Switched on society

One in four of us will at some point in our lives develop a mental health problem so, whether we are aware of it or not, the chances are a number of our friends, relatives and work colleagues will be suffering, often silently. And despite technological advancements such as smartphones and lists of ‘friends’ on social media, making us all - in theory - more ‘connected’ than ever before, people are increasingly feeling lonelier, more isolated, anxious and depressed. So where do we go from here?

Friends Meeting for Coffee

Time to make a Relationships Resolution?

The Mental Health Foundation is urging the British public to take its Relationships Resolutions pledge to invest more time into their relationships. People who sign up will receive challenges - for example, calling an old friend to arrange a catch up over coffee -  tips and a text on New Year’s Eve, to check in on their progress and to provide a gentle reminder to carry forward their resolution into 2017.

Couple in love

Can strong relationships also be beneficial to physical health?

Humans are social creatures and we have evolved to live in close groups so it makes sense that having regular contact with others is our ‘natural’ state. Naturally then, taking the time required to nurture such relationships will also benefit our physical health.

A simple embrace from a loved one has been found to lower blood pressure, decrease tension and stress levels and help to maintain a healthy heart rate and, as far as romantic relationships are concerned, a healthy sex life has also been repeatedly shown to boost heart health and general physical and mental wellbeing. Forging strong connections with others can not only bring pleasure and help to keep stress and anxiety in check, it can also influence health in the longer-term. Maintaining good relationships throughout life and into old age has been associated with increased longevity.

Male Thinking

Is modern life to blame?

Jenny Edwards adds: "Relationships require reflection, time, courage and grace.  Modern life often reduces the space to do this. Too many of us cut back on our time with people we care about under stress - be it exams, work commitments or financial pressures. This report reinforces the message that we should never underestimate or fail to invest in our collective capacity to connect with others. Who amongst us, if given this message, would not want to build closer ties with those we feel close to?”

For more information on the crucial link between relationships and health, you can view the MHF report ‘Relationships in the 21st century: the forgotten foundation of mental health and wellbeing’.

Live Healthy: you may also be interested in our article ‘Five tips for fostering healthy relationships’.

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