Over the last 2 years, The Real Friends Project has provided dozens of trainings and presentations to over 2,000 individuals. The “Introduction to Friends” workshop includes a segment where participants brainstorm and explore various benefits that “friendships” bestow upon people with and without disabilities. Very quickly, people will list the obvious (but important) benefits of companionship, reduced isolation, increased opportunities for activities, sense of self-worth, etc. But it usually takes awhile—and often requires prompting from the facilitator—for participants to list “better health” as a proven and crucial benefit of friendship.
The link between having friends and an individual’s physical and emotional health has received some study. To name just a few resources:
- The World Health Organization credits “our relationships with friends and family” as one of the determinants of health.
- “The Health Benefits of Strong Relationships” (December 2010 Harvard Medical School-Health Publication) touts that “Good connections can improve health and increase longevity”.
- “Friendships: Enrich your life and improve your health”, by the Mayo Clinic Staff, emphasizes that “Good friends are good for your health”.
Too often, we hear human services staff say that they do not have the time to spend helping people with disabilities they support to connect with other individuals in ways that might lead to friendships. They say they need to concentrate on “mandates” related to health and safety. The sooner that everyone realizes that friendships contribute to good health, the sooner they can begin doing the challenging, but rewarding work of bringing people together to benefit everyone in many ways.
Jim Ross & Mary Ann Brennen
Coordinators, The Real Friends Project
(With contribution from Elizabeth Pell, Human Services Research Institute)