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Tuesday 26 September 2023 Dublin: 14°C
# littlethings
Top tips on staying connected for good mental wellbeing
All over the festive season, is bringing you tried and tested ways to help you keep your mental health in fine fettle.

‘TIS THE SEASON to be busy. Many people are working today (and even yesterday), and life marches on, even in this ‘holiday’ period.

It’s not surprising then that not everyone might be feeling as perky as we’re meant to at this time of year. All through the next week, - inspired by the #LittleThings campaign – will be looking at ways in which you can give your life a lift, and stop those low times that we all have occasionally from developing into something more serious and long-term.

Today: How a sense of connection (with your community, loved ones, yourself) is a positive force – and knowing  when and how to ask for help when you need it.

A number of studies have shown that there is a correlation between good mental health and “pro-social” behaviour; in other words, if you participate in your local community or volunteer, it makes you feel more positive in general.

For young people, being connected to their peers and their schoolmates is associated with positive mental health.

We tend to hear advice about reaching out in tough times. That can be harder to do if you haven’t cultivated a strong social network when you’re feeling good about yourself, ie, probably when you least feel you need it – but that’s actually the best time to lay the foundations.

Stockpile a bit of social capital for yourself

According to a Welsh strategy for improving the mental health of the general populace,

Although material living conditions and socio-economic status are stronger predictors of ill health, social support can partially offset the effects of deprivation, notably for children.

Relationships and a sense of connection give us strength in times of adversity. Even something as basic as how many people you speak to in the course of your day can help.

A study in Galway found that “persons living in walkable, mixed use neighbourhoods were more likely to know their neighbours, participate politically, trust others and be socially engaged, compared with those living in car-oriented suburbs”.

Staying connected

Even if you do have to spend time in the car to get to where you need to go, it’s worth thinking about any leisure time you might have. Could you call into a neighbour you normally don’t have time to see during the working week? Walk to the local shop for a grocery basic? Take part in a local group like the Tidy Towns, a sports club or similar?

There are some organisations that are really trying to help people get connected socially, particularly on a local level. The Men’s Sheds movement is an excellent outreach for men to find support and friendship with each other in their local community.

CEO of the Irish Men’s Sheds Association John McEvoy, told that ‘Shedders’ are not just for men struggling in life, although it has helped people who are feeling isolated or in crisis. They come, rather, “to share knowledge, experience, ideas, creativity and skills”. He says:

The fact is that when a group comes together and creates something positive for the community, then the outcomes are positive for everyone.

There are now 7,000 members attending 220 Men’s Sheds across the country each week.

Targeting another demographic entirely is the Jigsaw programme which is already up and running in 10 communities across Ireland, from Dublin to Donegal, Kerry to Galway, Offaly to Roscommon. The Jigsaw network allows young adults to come together and talk about their problems – the involvement of the young people themselves in structuring the programme means there is support without judgement or stigma.

Matt McDowell / YouTube

Reaching out – even just a little bit

Úna Minh-Kavanagh is a food writer and journalist who knows what it’s like to begin to feel disconnected from life. When she begins to hit a low, she describes it as a visceral feeling, of “a little cloud arriving over you, pushing down on top of you”.

She says she now heeds the warning signs and will “step away if I have a slew of meetings or certain events”. Not all contact is helpful, all of the time. But, she says, also knowing when and who to reach out to is important.

It can be your family or your close friends but sometimes it can also be a stranger, a professional, or something like The Samaritans, where you can drop an email or a text.It depends on the person. I can be a stubborn person and sometimes you’ll think, ‘Oh I can weather this one out’ but personally I know it helps to let my mom or my boyfriend know if I’m not feeling okay.

Irish people are getting better at reaching out, Úna believes, in large part because of the overall conversation around mental health, which she thinks is becoming normalised and losing its stigma.

“In college, we were a close-knit group and there were support services there, but when it came to socially there would still be some people who would hear someone was feeling down and instead of saying, ‘Well, she’s not feeling her best right now’, would say, ‘Oh, there is something wrong with her’,” says Úna.

This is changing, she feels, particularly with more people sharing their own experiences of mental health challenges – especially on blogs and social media – and a growing awareness that we will all have times in our lives when it would serve us well to reach out and say: I’m not feeling 100%.

In support of that open conversation, Úna – along with others with lived experience of depression – have shared their stories with the #littlethings campaign.

It’s great to know you are not alone.

Úna’s story of learning to reach out – even through a simple text – is illustrated here:

HSE Ireland / YouTube


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