The connection between us: understanding the role of relationships in mental health

Being in an unhealthy relationship is as bad for your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.  This comes from a new report by the Mental Health Foundation which is asking us to explore the connection between relationships and mental health. 

When we think about relationships, we may assume that means having an intimate partner. The Mental Health Foundation defines relationships as “the way in which two people or more are connected”. This means relationships with anyone, from people you know well, like close family and friends and those you may only know in passing, like neighbours in your street, a colleague at work or a health professional. 

Happiness and health aren’t a result of wealth, fame or working hard but come instead from our relationships. ~ The Triumphs of Experience

Relationships are important because they provide us with a sense of community and belonging. Our basic instincts are to be part of a tribe, but research is showing us that who we choose to spend our time with can have a negative or positive impact on our physical and mental health. 

Signs of poor mental health can include:

  • Problems sleeping and/or nightmares
  • Headaches
  • Stomach upsets
  • Irritability and aggression
  • Feeling a need to hide or withdraw
  • Being unable to relax or unwind
  • Negative thoughts which can’t be controlled

Perhaps it’s the absence of a relationship which causes your low mood. Stephen Fry wrote his thoughts about lonelines, which weren’t so much that he wanted to be alone but he wanted to be left alone. In many ways, the research suggests that it’s better to be on your own than in a relationship which is bad for you. 

If you’ve ever found yourself in the company of someone who talks down to you, laughs at you (not with you), ignores or attempts to control you, these are all signs your relationship has become toxic. You may know that already, but are finding it hard to make a healthy change. If you want the relationship to work, whether it’s your parents, siblings, children or partner, you may find the help of a mediator useful – perhaps through an agency like Relate – but it has to be a joint effort.  

If you are coming into regular conflict with someone close to you, especially if this is having an impact on your physical or mental health, or are unsure of the signs of domestic abuse, then be sure to safeguard yourself and anyone else close to you, like children, as soon as you can; local health services and organisations like Refuge can help you plan your exit. 

It’s not just the presence of people in our lives that can cause us stress, the absence of them can too. According to the study, having a friend who lives close by can increase happiness by as much as 25%.  This means that moving away from home can have an impact just as losing someone close following a bereavement.

Raising your self-esteem, improving your confidence, recognising your right to be heard and setting healthy boundaries will all be an important part of finding relationships that work for you – talking to your doctor, trying mindfulness or accessing therapeutic support may all be useful. You can also access free guides on how to rediscover your sparkle when you subscribe to my newsletter

This article was written as part of Mental Health Awareness Week. Please read the important information at the bottom of this page before leaving a question or comment. 

Interested in dreams and sleep? Take a look at The Dreams Maven™ website. 

About Delphi Ellis

Qualified Counsellor, Mental Health and Well-Being Trainer, and Mindfulness Practitioner. Creator of Monday Mojo™. Talks 'Lady Business', raising awareness of factors which predominantly affect Women's Mental Health like pregnancy and domestic abuse. Helping to improve the global conversation, and bring an end to stigma and shaming. Dream Explorer as seen on the telly. Avid tea drinker.


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