Why our social networks matter

Since the first UK Mental Health Awareness Week in 2000, there has been a focus on how anxiety, sleep deprivation and exercise can impact upon our mental health. This year the theme is on relationships, as there is strong evidence that healthy and supportive relationships reduce the risk of mental ill-health.

Yet, as gay and bisexual men, how healthy and supportive are our relationships? Would it surprise you to know that positive social networks significantly improve our mental well-being and are as important as a healthy diet, giving up smoking or working-out at the gym?

After all, how many of us resort to comfort eating, drinking more than we should, smoking or excusing ourselves from exercise, when we experience a significant set back in a valued relationship?

Quality not quantity

Of course, despite the advent of social and sexual networking, it’s not about the quantity of those connections we have, it’s about the quality of the relationships we have. A few healthy, supportive connections with others will have a more positive impact on our mental health than many superficial, unhealthy relationships that deplete us mentally, emotionally and physically.

Being able to say a big “YES!” to friends, family and colleagues who add to our sense of mental well-being, while saying a big “NO!” to those who diminish our feelings of safety and support, requires some honest accounting, clear decision-making and assertiveness.

Choosing relationships that matter

As we consider the theme of Mental Health Awareness Week (16th - 22nd May), it might be a useful time to reflect on how our current social networks contribute to our own mental health, decide on those that matter and those that don’t, and think about how skilled we are at negotiating and maintaining healthy relationships, as well as ending those that no longer serve us well.