The Power of Friendship
I am blessed. In the course of my life, I’ve had the support of family and friends who have been able to help guide me through the sometime tumultuous times of this landscape called life. These relationships have proven to be mutually beneficial for both me as well as the other person. I never could have managed my Bipolar Disorder without them.
But there are many who do not have this kind of assistance. Their friends and loved ones are no longer in their lives. This can be for any number of reasons but often it is as a result of their mental illness. Many are homeless. It is estimated that this number can be as high as 3.5 million people in the U.S. (USA Today, August 27, 2014). A substantial number of these individuals live with a diagnosable mental illness. The numbers are staggering.
But this is not the only group suffering. There are many who live in silence. Isolation can lead to depression. Stigma prevents such people from reaching out for the help they so desperately need and deserve. Sometimes all they need is someone to be there as a friend. Unfortunately they may not know where to turn.
In many parts of the U.S., as well as in other countries there are a variety of peer-based support groups for those living with Bipolar or other conditions. These resources can be found online. Groups such as the Depression Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) have chapters nationwide.
Also, one of the organizations I work for, Compeer, is making friendships and changing lives. Its mission:
Using the power of volunteer friends
and mentors to improve the lives of
children, adults, and seniors who are
striving for good mental health.
Through its evidence-based mentoring process, thousands of individuals throughout the U.S., Australia, and Canada have been helped. Essentially, all that is required is for the mentor and mentee to simply spend at least one hour a week together. I’ve seen firsthand how these relationships can help individuals living with a mental health challenge thrive. These programs are looking for mentors who are willing to step up to be someone’s friend. Volunteers are screened and trained and matched with someone for whom they can be a positive role model, thereby raising the self-esteem and increasing the social and communication skills of their “Compeer.”
Research has shown that for those living with a mental disorder, the power of friendship can help them to live happier, healthier lives. There’s something special about the idea of having someone who is “in your corner.” I know from my own experience, that during those times when I struggled with my mania and depression, I benefited from having someone who was present to listen patiently and serve as my “rock.”
So whether you explore the DBSA, Compeer, or any other kind of social support, please know that you don’t have to do it alone. Recovery isn’t done in a bubble. We all need someone to lean on when things are tough (and even when they’re not).