One of the modules in our mentor’s training programme is entitled Human Needs. Within this we look at a range of emotional needs that we all have. This includes the emotional needs of children.
Connection to others is regarded as fundamental to good emotional health and, as we now know, it is rather important to our physical health as well. As a charity doing its best to promote the health and resilience of vulnerable young people, our model of mentoring supports mentors in helping young people to connect to others by encouraging them to become involved in group activities. These might include youth clubs, sports clubs, guide and scout groups and just about any legitimate activity involving connecting to others. It is notable that many of the young people referred to PROMISEworks have very little involvement with such groups and are often isolated in many ways. Contacts and relationships at school may be fragmented and family relations and interactions often struggle because of stressful circumstances at home.
If we look further into our needs for connection, a really interesting picture emerges, especially in relation to health and well-being.
In a ground breaking publication called Bowling Alone, Robert D Putman, Professor of Public Policy at Harvard, found that, “even catching infections appears to have far less to do with exposure to germs than with the state of your social life” and if you’re an adult and “you belong to no groups, but decide to join one, you cut your risk of dying over the next year in half.”
Research suggests that our need to connect is fundamental to our survival. A large body of research also reveals that the root of stress and ultimately illness, is a sense of isolation. The well-known heart expert, Dean Ornish states that the usual causal factors in heart disease, diet, smoking, obesity etc, account for only half of all heart disease. Every bit as important is simple isolation from other people and our own feelings. In this sense, heart disease, the western world’s biggest killer, is a disease of emotional alienation.
Social Psychologists at Exeter University have shown that membership in social groups is one of nature’s best medicines. Their research shows that the most important predictor of health is the number of groups to which you belong. The higher your group membership, the lower your risk of death from all causes.