Mental Health Awareness Month: Connecting with Others and Finding Your Passions

Finding other people to relate to and doing things that bring you enjoyment are great ways to improve your mood and overall mental health.

Loneliness can dramatically affect your health. Feelings of loneliness can cause the same amount of damage to your lifespan as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.[1] Being lonely is associated with a higher risk of high blood pressure in older people.[2] Poor social support makes it harder to recover from mental illness, while a strong social support system improves overall outcomes and the ability to bounce back from stress.[3] One study even found that women with breast cancer who have weak support systems before treatment have more pain and symptoms of depression over time.[4]

How social interaction and recreation can benefit you:

  • People with strong social relationships are 50% more likely to live longer[5]
  • People who do activities in nature like hiking, camping, or even going for a leisurely walk at a park, have better perceptions of their own emotional well-being[6]
  • Adolescents who participate in sports have lower odds of suffering from depression of thinking about suicide, likely because sports increase self-esteem and social support[7]
  • One study found that people who enjoy leisure activities like reading, playing board games, playing musical instruments, and dancing were less likely to develop dementia[8]

Not sure where to start to strengthen your social systems?

Start local! Look for a recreational sports league in your community, like softball or kickball. Places like Michaels or Home Depot have classes where you can learn new crafts and find others with similar interests. Websites like meetup.com have groups all over the country based on specific interests. Into computer programming? There’s a club for that. What about something like parkour or wakeboarding? They’ve got those too! You can also try volunteering. If you don’t know of any immediate volunteer opportunities, or aren’t sure where to start, websites like volunteermatch.org can help!


[1] https://www.cigna.com/assets/docs/newsroom/loneliness-survey-2018-full-report.pdf.

[2] Hawkley LC, Thisted RA, Masi CM & Cacioppo JT. (2010). Loneliness predicts increased blood pressure: 5-year cross-lagged analyses in middle-aged and older adults. Psychology and Aging. 25(1):132-141.

[3] Ozbay, F., Johnson, D. C., Dimoulas, E., Morgan III, C. A., Charney, D., & Southwick, S. (2007). Social support and resilience to stress: from neurobiology to clinical practice. Psychiatry (Edgmont). 4(5):35.

[4] Hughes, Spencer, et al. (2014). Social support predicts inflammation, pain, and depressive symptoms: longitudinal relationships among breast cancer survivors. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 42:38-44.

[5]Barker, Sandra B., et al. “Exploratory study of stress-buffering response patterns from interaction with a therapy dog.” Anthrozoös 23.1 (2010): 79-91

[6]Antonacopoulos, Nikolina M. Duvall, and Timothy A. Pychyl .“An Examination of the Potential Role of Pet Ownership, Human Social Sup­port and Pet Attachment in the Psychological Health of Individuals Living Alone.” Anthrozoös 23, no. 1 (March 2010): 37–54

[7]Gagnon, Johanne, et al. “Implementing a hospital-based animal therapy program for children with cancer: a descriptive study.” Canadian Oncology Nursing Journal/Revue canadienne de soins infirmiers en oncologie 14.4 (2004): 217-222

[8]Annick Maujean, Christopher A. Pepping & Elizabeth Kendall (2015) A Systematic Review of Randomized Controlled Trials of Animal-As­sisted Therapy on Psychosocial Outcomes, Anthrozoös, 28:1, 23-36