The journal PLoS Medicine in 2010 reported on a research review that showed in numerous studies individuals with poor social connections had 50 percent higher odds of mortality in the study's follow-up period (an average of 7.5 years) than those with hearty social lives.
The review tracked more than 300,000 women and men worldwide. The mortality risk for those with slim connections was larger than the risk of death from a lack of exercise and obesity. 148 studies were reviewed going back to 1979.
The review focused on mortality risk and relationship quantity, not perceived quality, so more research is needed on the benefits of good relationships.
Can a person get by with help from his or her online friends too? Researchers have yet to study whether online interactions give equal health benefits as in-person contact.
As the negative symptoms talked about last week could keep a person housebound, logging on to HealthCentral's schizophrenia community to talk with others could help. The goal however IS to step out your front door and get active in your community.
An interesting finding is that keeping in close physical contact with a loved one can release oxytocin, the "cuddle hormone" that connects you to another person.
I attended a luncheon where the keynote speaker talked about how when he was severely depressed and couldn't get out of bed, his father came to his side and just held his hand for an hour. That simple touch helped him realize that he could heal from his pain and it would be okay going forward.
The Mayo Clinic suggests we can tap this tool to combat stress by creating a social support network that can give us a sense of belonging, an increased sense of self-worth, and feeling of security.
The benefit to having support from other people is that you know you're not alone, so you can cope with stress better. You feel like you're a good person to be around when other people want to be your friend. Others can give you information, advice and guidance, too.
The Mayo Clinic also gives some tried-and-true ways to build a social network:
You can join a gym or start a walking group.
You can go back to school or take adult education courses at a local college or Learning Annex type center.
Some things to remember:
Keep in touch and respond when your contacts reach out to you.
Be happy instead of jealous when your friends achieve a goal and know they'll cheer you on when you succeed. If your friends are jealous or criticize you for wanting to better yourself or improve your life, are those the kinds of friends you ultimately want?
Actively listen to what your friends are telling you. These are clues that show you what they value, so you could possibly find out you have even more in common.
Do everything in moderation: don't overwhelm friends and family with phone calls and e-mails. Contact them for support at the high-demand times when you truly need them.
Express your gratitude. Be there for other people when they need support too. Tell them how important their role is in your life and express your appreciation. A simple "Thank you for being my friend, you're important to me" will do.
Two caveats: steer clear of people involved in street drug use or alcohol abuse, and avoid spending time with a person who is negative and critical.
I have one rule to live by in terms of friendships: you have to be open to receiving new people into your life, even if the package they come in is different.
For a number of years, when I was younger, I went to house parties with people I had nothing in common with on paper except for our diagnoses. We'd slam dance to the Sex Pistols on the radio in one guy's living room. Also: I have another good friend whose life experience is the total opposite of mine yet I've been friends with him for 10 years.
So I wouldn't rule anyone out.
Some other good ways to connect with others:
Frequent your local public library, which often hosts book discussion groups, author talks and computer classes.
Join a MeetUp group in your city or town to interact with people who share a common interest, like cooking or culture or writing.
Get active at your church or with a local political group.
Attend a poetry reading or concert at a local coffeehouse.
If you're scared to go out of the house yet have a couple close friends, screw up the courage to go outside with them. Should you panic out in public or need to go home because you're having a flare-up of symptoms, establish a code beforehand to let the person know you need to go home.
It can be as simple as "I have a migraine." This is a universally accepted excuse for bowing out of an event. I once had to be driven home from work at noon because I had a migraine so severe I was disabled. All I could do was lie in bed until midnight with no light and no sound until I was able to fall asleep. A migraine is the perfect excuse for cutting a day short.
Barring even limited social outings; you can try inviting someone to your apartment for dinner. You don't even have to cook if that's too much. Just have on hand the menu of the best pizza shop in town. Around here, I can get a vodka pie that is pizza with vodka sauce or a whole-wheat margherita. It's a crowd-pleaser yet if the thought of hosting a crowd is daunting, invite one or two people.
Lastly, I can vouch for forming online friendships with people you will most likely not ever meet in person. I make the rounds of the blogs that women diagnosed with SZ keep, and post comments to their blogs every so often. I link to their blogs from my own blog.
So the jury might be out on whether there's equal benefit or no benefit to online support. Yet it couldn't hurt if your online buddies are truly supportive, as one woman has been of me. And I want nothing but the best for her.
Next up, I'm going to talk in detail about forming romantic relationships when you have a diagnosis of schizophrenia. Stay tuned.
TIME magazine, Recipe for Longevity: No Smoking, Lots of Friends, retrieved March 30, 2012 from http://www.time.comtime/health/article/0,8599,2006938,00.html
Mayo Clinic, Social Support: Tap This Tool to Combat Stress, retrieved April 10, 2012 from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/social-support/SR00033
Published On: April 13, 2012