Social connection is one of the greatest determinants of mental health. While you don’t have to have 1000 friends across a social media network, the value of in-person contact with friends, relatives, work mates or other associates can counter loneliness, anxiety and depression.
Beyond Blue says people with higher levels of social connectedness are less likely to develop depression and, if they do develop depression, they are less likely to experience persistent and recurrent episodes. Yet they have also found that it is common for men to go through a lonely period and to lose touch with friends as they get older, particularly between the ages of 35 and 54.
It has also been reported that loneliness can be has damaging to a person’s health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. “The idea that loneliness can be associated with poorer cardiovascular health and, in old age, a faster rate of cognitive decline and dementia is repositioning loneliness as a public health issue,” says VicHealth, citing research from Julianne Holt-Lunstad, Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at Brigham Young University in Utah, USA.
It can be easy to make social connection someone else’s business. But small actions can go a long way towards building a foundation of support and friendship that will improve your quality of life.
Here’s a few ideas on how you might become more socially connected:
- Nurture existing relationships. Call a friend or family member you haven’t been in touch with for a while.
- Talk to people. Start a conversation with people you see every day. Practice being friendly.
- Join a sports team, walking or hobby group (see get active).
- Help out volunteering.
- Attend a community event.
- Stay connected online. The internet can help connect with family and friends wherever they are.
- Whatever your interest, there’s likely to be a group for you to join. Meetup.com facilitates group meet-ups of every kind, or you can start your own.
- Check out beyondblue’s Connections Matter booklet, a great resource for helping older people stay socially active.
A growing number of leading lights in the grassroots men’s mental health movement are driving social connection for blokes. The Australian Men’s Health Forum recommends you check out the following:
Mentoring Men puts men of all ages in touch with a mentor who they can talk openly with about anything without fear of judgement. The program, founded by Ian Westmoreland, is quickly expanding in Sydney. In addition to its core activity of establishing one-on-one life mentoring relationships, MM hosts other activities aimed at encouraging social connection between men, such as men’s walk and talk events, men’s breakfasts, men’s forums, webinars and other social events.
Quality Mind CEO and founder Richard Maloney was the force behind Blokes United, which gathers Aussie men together for an hour two times a week to provide support and solidarity during the pandemic lockdown.
Mr Perfect brings men together at BBQs in local parks across Australia. During the COVID-19 lockdown, founder Terry Cornick ensured virtual BBQs continued to keep men connected. These events are becoming more widespread as more men join a Mr Perfect meet-up or start their own. Find out more.
The aptly named Grab Life by the Balls creates events for blokes from all walks of life to connect, hang out and be themselves. These include burger nights and breakfast chin wags across Queensland, Victoria and NSW. Events (online and offline) are regularly posted @grablifebytheballsmovement on Facebook.
Aussie TV personality Cameron Daddo recently launched a new website encouraging men to form teams in their local community to talk openly. Called MyMensTeam, the website invites blokes to join or start a men’s group, and offers a blueprint on how to go about it.
The Men’s Table takes social connection to the dinner table, facilitating conversation and camaraderie in regular and intimate dinner gatherings, with small numbers per group and a framework for developing authentic communication in a safe setting. Have a taste.
The Tough Guy Book Club works on a similar principle, bringing blokes together to dissect a book in a pub or social setting. Each group is called a Chapter, and they are located across Australia. “This is the pool hall at the end of the alley but with Hemingway,” say the organisers. The only prerequisite is that men can talk about anything but their work. “It’s a chance to be yourself instead of your job.” Read more …
Men’s Sheds are geared more towards older men, who typically meet at a community space – or shed – to fix things, make things, share activities they are passionate about and hang out. The movement started in Australia and there are now 1000 Shedders across the country … more than McDonald’s outlets. Find a shed.
Men’s Well Being have moved its men’s groups online for the time being. The organisation’s regular outdoor gatherings were cancelled owing to the coronavirus pandemic, but there are still plenty of options for virtual connectivity, and the beauty of this is you can join from anywhere. Find a men’s group.
Dads Groups are the equivalent of mother’s groups … but for dads, and established by Tom Docking as he was becoming a new parent several years ago and found there was no organised support for dads. Following the coronavirus pandemic, Tom extended the initiative to Dads Groups online, and set up 10 different time slots across the week for men to connect with other dads. The early stages of fatherhood can be a time of acute stress and loneliness for many dads, say the organisers. But you don’t have to go it alone. Join a group.
TIPS FROM THE TOP
The Australian Men's Health Forum surveyed men for World Mental Health Month 2020 on the 10 Habits of Mentally Healthy Men. 82% agreed that spending time with people in their social networks kept them mentally healthy. Here's what some of them had to say:
Connecting with people gives me meaning, place and purpose.
This is more my arena. Having mates to talk to is very important for my mental health.
I go to a men's group every month and we share issues in our lives and listen with acceptance and empathy.
Focus on helping others, not self.