Monday, March 24, 2014

The Importance Of Other People

Isolation does not mix well with mental health. Often mental illness can leads to ourselves spending a lot of time alone. Sometimes this is because the very effects of our mental illness make us not want to spend time with others, or enjoy spending time with others less. Sometimes this is because the content of our thoughts can be so strange and frightening that we feel like a pariah, and isolate ourselves from other, "normal" people, who we may be afraid of hurting, or afraid they may notice how we're feeling and avoid us.

Everyone is alone sometimes. Sometimes we need to be by ourselves for a while. For people with good mental health, being alone is not that much of a problem. For someone who struggles with mental issues, excessive isolation can be very problematic.

We are social creatures. Most of us thrive and depend upon the companionship of other people. We enjoy spending time with them, and they help us feel loved, and valuable. Often, they help keep our demons at bay by their presence alone, their own voices counteracting our own self-critical or otherwise problematic voices.

In the absence of people we can enjoy ourselves with, the only things we have to keep ourselves company are ourselves. And sometimes, we don't give ourselves the best company. Critical and negative voices in our head routinely attempt to beat us down. Obsessions make themselves known in our idle thoughts. The sheer knowledge of our own loneliness folds in on itself and makes us hate ourselves for being alone. There is a reason that lack of social support triggers suicidal thoughts, and that is because when we don't have other people who by their very presence counter the assertions of our own negative thoughts as being alone and unloveable, it becomes more and more attractive to believe those negative thoughts are true.

There are some people who may be reading this and feeling upset. They are currently alone, or believe themselves to be alone, and hearing about how loneliness can worsen one's mental health may send them into negative thought spirals that in turn leave them feeling worse. It is important to note that I discuss this not to condemn those feeling alone to more unhappiness, but as a reminder that their mental health can be very much improved with the presence of others.

And there are multiple opportunities to connect with other people. We may be away from our friends, but we can meet and talk with new people. There are events going on around where we live, and even if there aren't, or none of them appeal to us, there are a wide range of communities online, filled with like-minded people whom we can spend time with. I say this knowing that some of my closest friends are people I met, and know primarily, through website forums and Facebook. Sometimes, the sheer attempt at connecting with other people can be helpful, because it acknowledges to us that we can work to change our situation.

That said, while relationships with other people are very helpful, some are more helpful than others, and some are not helpful at all, or even harmful. acquaintances who continually drain our energy (and other resources), who denigrate us or otherwise make us feel bad about ourselves, who fail to accept us for who we are, and who routinely violate our trust are all relationships that can take a toll on our already taxed mental faculties. Some acquaintances may not believe, as many people in our society do, that we do not have mental health issues, but that we are being "weak" or "selfish". With these people, it is best for us to keep ourselves at a distance. We need not necessarily end a relationship entirely, but we must learn to set boundaries that prevent them from hurting us.

Of course, even when we know our mental health can be improved by spending time with other people, it can be difficult to do so. We may have negative thoughts that lead us to believe we won't be able to enjoy ourselves with them, or that they won't want to spend time with us. Very often, this is not true. Very often, this is the result of our mental illness, and we need to fight against that. We often need to push ourselves into those social situations, even when we don't want to, or feel like we can. Often we surprise ourselves.

Though it may sometimes be hard to see, a great deal of our mental health is in our control. We can choose what we do and how we spend our time. We can choose to spend our time in ways that helps us get better. Spending time with other people, people who make us feel good and loved, is one of those ways, and may be one of the most crucial.


Further Reading

Social Support Is Critical For Depression Recovery

No comments:

Post a Comment