The saying, ‘two heads are better than one’, is appropriate when looking at the treatment and recovery from any mental health issue. The idea of coming together – in pairs or more – and being part of something has shown to promote a positive psychological state, and healthy wellbeing. Mental health is personal, yet shareable. It is up to that person to address the issue and look deep within for an answer. Surrounding yourself with good people; being part of a collective effort; and sharing emotions with someone else is a great way to combat mental health problems.

Togetherness is a fundamental human feature. Every child is born with a need to belong and the ability to connect. Historical evidence shows that individuals with psychological disorders can lessen their psychopathology by learning more effective methods to belong.[1] Belonging can take shape in many aspects of life; we try and access it wherever we find ourselves. It underpins the holistic system: the idea that when we belong, we feel we are an actively contributing part of the larger whole which makes us feel valued and significant.[2]

Togetherness, unity and kinship are all cost-effective ways to encourage a positive wellbeing. For many communities and families, treatment is often financially inaccessible. Medication, therapy or counselling are sometimes out of reach for those most vulnerable to mental health issues. However, there is no price tag on a sense of belonging. Some are unable to access it but for those who can, it is an invaluable asset to all types of health. Luciano L’Abate describes these as prescriptive promotional approaches: simple, concrete, easily replicable activities that can be self-initiated and self-administered.[3] Being part of a family, community or common goal is invaluable. As money is not an issue, it is available to everyone. In this blog, we look at where in life this sense of togetherness and belonging can achieved. From the workplace to the household, it is something we all desire.

Family

Family is a framework for how to live your life. It shapes you from a young age, and defines you as a person further down the line. In terms of mental health, a strong family setting is vital. Families live together and grow together during the most important phases of life; bound by biological and psychological relationships.[4] Family rifts or niggling arguments may take place, but there is an overarching sense of belonging that binds every member. For low income families, this bond is incredibly special. They may be unable to access typical mental health resources but a stable household is just as effective. Studies have revealed that larger families are more able to compensate for a dysfunctional member.[5] It really is a case of surrounding yourself with the right people, and more of them. How you operate within your family also defines how you act outside of it. For instance, what is learned from the relationships within will shape how you make friends and treat other people. If you feel like you belong in your family, you are more than likely to settle and feel at home elsewhere.[6] From a therapy standpoint, kinship is also a proven method. As Adele Brodkin suggests, “unlike many fleeting therapeutic fads, family therapy has flourished in established mental health circles for the past 22 years.”[7]

While kinship hosts togetherness, it is not exempt from propagating mental health problems. Commonly referred to as a ‘burden of care’, the togetherness and collective mood works both ways. This can include feelings of guilt, hatred, sorrow, uncertainty and shame.[8] There is such a togetherness and sense of belonging that when someone is struggling with mental health problems, it may have an adverse effect on the rest of the family.

Relationships

Strong relationships outside the familial bond are also a great way to maintain togetherness. Whether friendly or romantic, relationships provide a sense of unity and duty of care for another person’s emotions. For mental health, trust and responsibility are essential. In one study, recovering participants talked about their experiences in hospital, and how people and relationships formed the context for their recovery.[9] Sharing emotions and experiences is a proven way to address issues, and plan for a better future. It may be group therapy or intimate one-to-ones, but the chance to communicate on an emotional level undoubtedly generates a feeling of belonging. There are, however, potential problems. If a relationship lacks love, affection and trust it can damage all those involved. This creates a huge strain on psychological wellbeing.

Community

Your community – no matter how big or small – is part of you, as much as you are part of it. People are proud of their circles: city, countryside, town or village; they are more often than not loyal to their surroundings and the people within. It is a sense of belonging based on community spirit. An individual’s mental health can be an accurate reflection of the wider community feeling. If people within a vicinity are positive and proactive then the individual will likely feel the same. People look out for each other on an emotional level – almost like a neighbourhood watch for mental health. An integrated community with increased social cohesion produces an unquestionable feeling of pride, unity and belonging. If you are lucky enough to live in one, your health and wellbeing is sure to benefit.

Working Environment

The workplace is a community in itself. Everyone should be working towards the same goal and target. Meetings, coffee breaks and shared desk spaces all bind people, but the collective effort is what really creates a sense of belonging and unity. Relationships at work are founded on care and enable human development. When these relationships are made possible, workplace performance is improved and the general mood is enhanced.[10] In fact, people adjust much better to work when they are surrounded by people like them. There are, however, some cases where this sense of belonging is all-consuming. People want to perform for their peers or business so much that they develop workaholic tendencies.[11] This can be incredibly detrimental for one’s mental health. Too much work can lead to increased stress levels and sometimes a complete burnout. It is great to feel part of something with work, but it is important not to let this sense of belonging overwhelm you.

To belong to something is extremely beneficial for mental health. It adds value, purpose and meaning to a person’s life, and is proven to increase confidence, self-esteem, and general wellbeing. While mental health is personal, it can be enhanced when shared with someone. There is an emotional togetherness in families, working environments and communities, which all improves how we see the world. We are born to belong and connect so it is no surprise that we thrive when we are together.

Sources

[1] Shifron, R. 2010. Alder’s need to belong as the key for mental health in Journal of Individual Psychology, [online], available at: https://machon-adler.co.il/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/Shifron-Adlers-need-to-belong.pdf [accessed 21 June 2020].

[2] ibid.

[3] L’Abate, L. 2007. Low-Cost Approaches to Promote Physical and Mental Health. In: L’Abate L. (eds) Low-Cost Approaches to Promote Physical and Mental Health. Springer, [online], available at: https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/0-387-36899-X_1#citeas [accessed 20 June 2020].

[4] Avashti, A. 2010. Preserve and strengthen family to promote mental health, [online], available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2927880/ [accessed 20 June 2020].

[5] ibid.

[6] Shifron, R. 2010. Alder’s need to belong as the key for mental health in Journal of Individual Psychology.

[7] Brodkin, A. M. 1980. Family therapy: The making of a mental health movement. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, [online], available at: https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1939-0025.1980.tb03258.x [accessed 20 June 2020].

[8] Avashti, A. 2010. Preserve and strengthen family to promote mental health.

[9] Gilburt, H., Rose, D. & Slade, M. 2008. The importance of relationships in mental health care: A qualitative study of service users' experiences of psychiatric hospital admission in the UK. [online], available at: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1186/1472-6963-8-92#citeas [accessed 20 June 2020].

[10] Ferch, S. R. and Wilson, S. M. 2005. Enhancing Resilience in the Workplace Through the Practice of Caring Relationships in Organisation Development Journal, [online], available at: https://search.proquest.com/openview/9ba678c7e73599ab376e3e43974f7e45/1?pq-origsite=gscholar&cbl=36482 [accessed 20 June 2020].

[11] Shifron, R. 2010. Alder’s need to belong as the key for mental health in Journal of Individual Psychology.