Mental Health Action Week puts focus on friendship

Friendship can be a vital factor in helping people with mental health problems to get well and stay well, which is why a top UK charity has devoted its 2007 Mental Health Action Week (April 8 -14) to exploring the issue.

Friendship and Mental Health is the theme of the Mental Health Foundation’s week of activities, and a spokeswoman for the charity said the aim is to “raise awareness about the importance of friendship and its positive impact on mental health.”

“In reality it can be difficult for people with mental health problems to maintain their friendships. It can also be tough for friends of people with mental health problems to know how to support them,” she added.

“Our friends can keep us grounded and can help us get things in perspective. It is worth putting effort into maintaining our friendships and making new friends. Friends form one of the foundations of our ability to cope with the problems that life throws at us.”

In a survey of people with mental health problems carried out by the charity especially for the Action Week, 44% of respondents said they didn’t want their friends to know about their illness.

Of those people, 61% said they were ashamed of what their friends might think.

But despite these fears, many people reported that when their friends eventually did find out about their mental health problems, the reaction was a positive one – 73% said their friends’ first reaction was to offer help and emotional support.

And most of the people surveyed said that after confiding in their friends about their problems, the friendships had either stayed as strong as ever or got even stronger.

The Foundation has published a special booklet called Keeping Us Going, which looks at the effect of mental health problems on friendship from both viewpoints and suggests ways that friends can support each other and keep their friendship going when times are tough.

In the booklet – which is available on-line – the issues affecting people experiencing mental distress sit side by side with information for their friends.

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