There is strong evidence that indicates that feeling close to and valued by other people is a fundamental human need and one that contributes to wellbeing. Humans are social creatures and relationships are vital to building our support network and strengthening our identity. Although connectedness often refers to our connections with other people, it can also involve our connections with places, animals, activities, beliefs and, of course, ourselves.

Recovery College students have described connectedness as:

“Relationships with others”

“Feeling a part of something”

“Sense of belonging”

“Sharing a bond”

What connections do we have? Recovery College student contributions:

Family Facebook/Twitter Neighbours
Objects/belongings Support group Nature/environment
Culture/heritage Pets Friends
Home town Colleagues Community
Hobbies/interest groups Sports team Spirituality/beliefs

Positive and negative connections

All connections can be positive or negative depending on the situation and circumstances we are in. we can, at times, feel supported by family, friends and colleague or at other times feel let down by them. We may feel a sense of connection or belonging to certain places, objects or groups and not to others. The important thing is knowing what works for us as individuals and investing more energy and time in developing positive connections that help our recovery and taking steps to manage negative connections.

How can we manage our connections?

Communicate your needs, values and personal boundaries as honestly and openly as possible – a relationship can feel dissatisfying and frustrating when neither party fully understands what is expected of them. Try to reduce the time and effort you spend connections which leave you feeling under-valued or emotionally drained. It may not be feasible to remove these negative connections completely but it may help to be more assertive when dealing with them. Getting advice and practical support from someone you have a positive relationship with can be useful in building up strategies to deal with challenging connections.

Making new connections…

Go to new places – try attending a new group, volunteering, getting involved in local activities or join an online forum.

Be open to exploring different hobbies, courses, interests and experiences.

Give yourself a chance to get to know new people – take small steps to build up acquaintances and friendships.

Get support – this could be from professionals, peer supporters, friends or family.

Real life experience

 “A deep sense of love and belonging is an irresistible need of all people. We are biologically, cognitively, physically, and spiritually wired to love, to be loved, and to belong. When those needs are not met, we don’t function as we were meant to. We break. We fall apart. We numb. We ache. We hurt others. We get sick.”

Brene Brown Professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work

I’m not sure if people would necessarily think of being connected as an important thing for someone’s health. It perhaps doesn’t seem as obvious as a good diet, exercise, no smoking or no alcohol. Through my experiences I know understand just how crucial feeling connected to others can be.

When my life started to fall apart I was surrounded and deeply entwined with lots of other people and social groups. I had a big and close family, friends from school, friends from college, friends from work, and friends from my sports team. I was never short of someone to pick up the phone to or go for a pint with. Being with other people brought me joy and love, with friends around me I lived in the moment and made the most of my time.

When my mental health problems first began to emerge it began to affect the relationships that were important to me. I became anxious and withdrawn and unable to connect in the way I previously had. I avoided social occasions, ignored phone calls and hid myself away. I was scared people would see what turmoil was going on in my head. I was ashamed.

As things derailed further and I had several suicide attempts and hospital admissions things got even worse. If my friends had begun to think of me as unreliable, they now thought I was mad. People seemed scared of me, like they didn’t know what to say. No one wanted to visit me in hospital. Their worries over what post grad course to do, which member of the rugby team to date next, which Mac lipstick lipstick went with which Topshop top seemed a world away from my world of anti-psychotics and section 3’s! I felt like I no longer belonged.

My family tried to stand by me but they too were scared. Scared that I would die I suppose. The laughter and jokes was replaced with anxiety and worry. Everything I did was seen through the lens of mental health. There would be whispered conversations behind my back and everyone seemed to be walking on eggshells. I felt a stranger in my own home, again like I didn’t belong.

Many years have passed from those excruciatingly difficult times and I have made some progress in my recovery. I know part of this is through re-building connections as well as establishing new ones. I met my now husband who has always accepted every part of me. I have never had to hide away or feel ashamed, he loves me through my distress not despite it. Having him by my side has strengthened my belief that I can get through this.

Getting involved in the Trust, through the recovery strategy, the Experts by Experience programme and the Recovery College has given me the opportunity to build relationships with other service users and like-minded people. To meet others who also have survived trauma and survived the mental health system has made me feel comfortable and connected. I have found somewhere where I feel like I do belong. There is no pressure to be something I am not. I am accepted for my flaws and all and for this I will be forever grateful.