You may choose to:
- Maintain relationships with your family
- Maintain relationships with your friends
- Live in a personal relationship with a partner
- Engage with a religion of your choice or tradition
- Be supported while using general leisure facilities
- Using specialist supported leisure facilities
- Follow your hobbies or interests individually or in a group
A person’s social life can have a great effect on their mental health, and maintaining a social life can play a significant part in recovery from serious mental illness.
Standard 3 of the revised adult mental health National Service Framework for Wales concerns the “Promotion of opportunities for a normal pattern of daily life”.
Key Action 10 of this standard highlights that: “People with mental health problems and their carers have the same needs for friendship and social, leisure/recreational and educational/training/lifelong learning activities as any other person in the community. Some individuals may require additional support to access such opportunities.”
If you are taking part in the Care Programme Approach (CPA) you could record your social life needs in your care plan – along with the support you require to meet these needs.
One of the important factors of maintaining a social life is that it prevents people with a mental illness becoming isolated and lonely. In Spring 2006 Hafal conducted a survey to determine how loneliness affects people with severe mental illness and their carers. Over 90% of respondents said that loneliness makes the symptoms of serious mental illness worse, particularly depression. 25% of service users who took part said they were either moderately or extremely lonely. Yet well over 80% said that attending a Hafal project reduced their feelings of loneliness.
Social contact is often a neglected area in people’s care and recovery, perhaps because there is an assumption that it is a matter for the individual. However, it can play an important part in maintaining wellbeing. Studies have shown that often people with serious mental illness feel excluded from social networks and a reduced social life. This is contrary to recovery as social contact helps build up self-confidence, support networks and can lead towards empowerment and self-motivation.
If you feel lonely and you want to change that, you could begin by asking yourself these simple questions:
- What is the cause of my loneliness?
- When do I feel lonely?
- How do I cope with the feeling of loneliness?
- Do I feel comfortable within a group or with just one other person?
- How can I create opportunities to be with other people in a way that suits me?
There are many different aspects that all come together to create a social life.
Here we offer a checklist of components to social life which can be considered in a holistic approach to achieving a full social life:
Physical and mental activities not only provide the opportunity to form social bonds, but also provide a distraction for a set period of time. Repeating activities, such as weekly football sessions, or card tournaments, can also lead to more social activities as the groups have additional activities such as meals out, etc.
If you have a job it is beneficial to build up or maintain good, strong relationships with the people you work with as working relationships can provide a lot of support and understanding. Many people also find that they become long-term friends with work colleagues.
Family is often an often source of support. It is a good idea to keep up-to-date with family affairs to ‘stay in the loop’ and to maintain relationships as best you can. Half an hour on the phone a week to a loved family member can improve the feeling of belonging.
Hobbies provide an opportunity to get enthusiastic about something, providing a basis for friendships with people who share this hobby. Hobbies also provide a variety of activities in the forms of conventions and hobby groups.
Friendships with people who hold similar interests or who have had similar experiences can help with communal support. It is worth joining a local support group, or attending some evening classes or hobby groups to meet people.
Some useful links:
www.artswales.org.uk is the Arts Council for Wales’ new website which includes a database of individual arts practitioners and arts organizations in Wales.
www.volunteering-wales.net is the Wales Council for Voluntary Action’s online volunteering service. The site offers information on volunteering anywhere in Wales across a wide range of opportunities from counselling to environmental work.
www.walesindex.co.uk/ has a comprehensive listing of activities and venues throughout Wales. The site is easy to navigate with sub-headings such as Leisure & Recreation; Conservation, Eating out and Theatre & Cinema. You can also check your local press or public library for details of groups and activities in your area.