Dan Parton cutRelationships are vital for our health and wellbeing, so that the theme for this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week is on this is welcome recognition of something that can all too easily be neglected, says Mental Health Today editor Dan Parton.

It was the metaphysical poet John Donne who penned the line ‘no man is an island’ and it is a truism that holds today. Relationships are crucial to everyone – be it family, friends or work colleagues – but are something that can be tested, or allowed to drift, when someone has a mental health issue.

Good relationships are as important to wellbeing as more established lifestyle factors such as healthy diet, stopping smoking, drinking in moderation or regular exercise. So to maintain them is an imperative.

Good friends can be especially important when people are experiencing mental ill health. To borrow an old advertising slogan, it really is good to talk. Opening up to a friend can be an important first step for a person on the road to recovery.

For example, a survey in 2014 by mental health anti-stigma campaign Time to Change found that 29% of 16-25-year-olds consorted with friends first when they were going through a tough time, closely followed by their boy/girlfriend or spouse and parents (26% and 24% respectively).

Likewise, the positive effect that peer support and peer support groups can have on people experiencing mental ill health are well known. Being able to talk to someone who has been through – or is going through – a similar experience can be comforting, and show that, whatever is happening to them, there is a way through and they can recover.

Sadly, not all friends will be understanding and many people will talk about having lost friends when disclosing they have experienced mental ill health. This shows that stigma around mental health is still a problem; even though studies have shown it is falling, thanks to the work of Time to Change and others.

This is why things like Mental Health Awareness Week are important. By highlighting mental health issues it can help to reduce ignorance and fear – in some cases – of it among the public and promote tolerance.

Maybe it will also help people with mental ill health to open up – the fear of being rejected should not discourage people from talking. Someone out there will listen: if not a friend, then a health professional or even someone from a helpline – there are many national and local lines available and a quick internet search will reveal them. 

Likewise, for those who know a friend is having a tough time, or is struggling with their mental health, it is important to maintain contact with them. While all of us lead busy lives, it is important to take even just a few minutes to stop and give them a call, text or post through social media. 

Just receiving a text, and knowing someone is thinking about them and cares can help to lighten someone’s mood – sometimes it is the little things that can have a great effect.

Even better, arrange a time to meet and have a coffee or go to the pub. Having a chat can be therapeutic, and help to bring out feelings. A chat or a bit of advice can be the first step on the road to getting treatment, and, in time, recovering from their mental health problem.

But whatever is done, it is important that friends and family are there when people experiencing mental ill health reach out. Donne – and Ringo Starr – had the right idea.