Relationships: The Forgotten Foundation of Good Mental Health

16/05/2016 17:08 | Updated 16 May 2016

Mental Health Awareness Week gives us the opportunity to ignite a national debate around the importance of supporting good mental health. This year, the theme focusses on the importance of 'Relationships' in their many forms. After looking at the global body of evidence, the Mental Health Foundation found striking evidence showing the impact of relationships on our health and wellbeing to be comparable to well established risk factors such as smoking.

This will come as no surprise to a lot of us; we have a natural inclination toward relationships, instinctively knowing on some level that they're what really matter in life. The evidence is affirming this instinct and telling us that it's a good one, we should trust it! People who are more socially connected to family, friends, or their community are happier, physically healthier and live longer with fewer mental health problems than people who are less well connected.

Relationships can take many forms, something the Ancient Greeks were well aware of. The high esteem they held relationships in was reflected in their language. They had words for the wide range of relationships and feelings that are shared between people. Eros refers to typical romantic or passionate love felt between partners, which is what comes to mind for most of us when we hear the word 'relationships' today, but in Ancient Greece they also had words for the other forms of loving relationships which exist beyond this:

• Philia for the love and affection shared between friends
• Storgē for the love that is shared between family
• Agápē meaning compassionate love or charity embraces a universal, unconditional love that transcends & serves regardless of circumstances
• Philautia, for the relationship we have with ourselves, self-compassion and self-love.

Modern life by comparison seems much less relationship focussed; it can often put us under pressures and create barriers to investing in relationships that are beyond our control. This is why we need to see societal shifts as well as personal ones. National governments, public bodies and employers all have a role to play in promoting good relationships and tackling the barriers to forming them, including mounting pressures on work-life balance and the impact of bullying and unhealthy relationships.

At the same time as facing barriers, we're surrounded by messages in our daily lives telling us that productivity and the money, success and material wealth it brings as key to happiness, something the research has shown to be false. Living in a society where productivity is held in such high regard, we run the risk of sprinting through our lives, seeking solace in chasing more measurable units of meaning and missing the meaning to be found in the relationships and connections all around us. For me this realisation really hit home when a Cancer scare made me stop, consider what I was chasing and what I could be missing in the process.

The Mental Health Foundation is calling on us all to make 'Relationships Resolutions'. People who make a resolution will receive a text on New Year's Eve, December 31st, checking in to see how they have done and encouraging them to carry their resolutions forward into the New Year. For more information on Mental Health Awareness Week 2016 visit the Mental Health Foundation