The benefits of hugging and how to treat people in mental pain
Updated: Mar 4
I am very conscious of the fact that I am covering some very difficult and distressing topics while writing daily on the subject of mental health.
I'm determined not to shy away from tackling the problems surrounding psychiatric care, complex mental illness and suicide, but I do notice that writing and reading about these things affects my own mental health because I've been on the edge with brutal psychiatric illness and it just feels so close to home sometimes.
Taking that into account, I have decided to make today's post a bit more light-hearted and comforting.
While searching through the news for something to write about, I stumbled across an article in the lifestyle section of The Independent discussing the mental health benefits of physical touch, principally the act of hugging each other.
Obviously this is tricky to put into practice beyond your 'bubble' at the current time but it is definitely something to consider, especially for our supporters who feel helpless when it comes to what they can actually do to help us when we're in dire mental pain.
The newspaper article was published on January 21st which is, (and I was surprised to learn this,) a recognised annual event called, 'National Hugging Day'.
Although it does sound rather like an 'American' idea, and is primarily observed in the U.S, I have to admit that after researching it, I recognise that the act of hugging can bring with it many benefits.
There is even empirical evidence to back this up, through scientific research, studying the positive effects that the act of hugging stimulates in the brain.
The brain releases a hormone called Oxytocin when two people embrace in a hug.
Known as the 'bonding molecule' because of the elevation in social bonding that it creates, Oxytocin can reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation.
It has even been shown that these positive gains can be achieved from hugging animals; I've always wondered about this, and now I know why my younger sister is constantly cuddling and fussing over our dogs - there's a physical gain from doing so, and she's unconsciously reaping the benefits!
The other chemical that is released through the act of hugging is the neurochemical dopamine.
Known as the 'feel good' neurotransmitter, dopamine is associated with feelings of happiness, and is what is thought to be lacking by some scientists, in those that are suffering from depression.
While considering all this, a few things came to light, mostly regarding how people should be supporting and helping those suffering from mental health disorders.
Depression in particular, is such a terrifyingly lonely and isolating experience; the illness makes it impossible to reach out to people, which is one of it's cruelest aspects. This is why the message of 'seek support/help' is not always going to be of benefit, because it is the illness itself that makes you feel like you can't connect to people, let alone attempt to explain the horrors of what’s going on in your mind. This is where we need understanding.
The mentally shattered need to be treated like anyone else going through a horrible illness. Depression is a serious and life threatening condition; a cancer of the mind, virtually impossible to describe, but we should be treating sufferers in the same way that we would treat people going through chemotherapy. In both cases the patient is terrified and fighting a life-threatening, and complicated illness.
If you live with someone who is going through a mental battle, you must hug them and reassure them constantly; their confidence is shattered and they need your love and support now more than ever.
If you know someone who is suffering then send them a get-well-soon card, a letter, a bunch of flowers, just as you would if they had a physical illness, the two are parallel and should be treated in the same way.
In all the months and years that I've been suffering with bipolar mania and depression, I have had about three cards which came when I was on a psych ward in my last admission, and were all from my Grandmother!
We have got to start recognising the importance of positive physical acts concerning the support of those in mental crisis. For this to happen the patient needs to feel that they can be open and honest about their condition, and the supporters need to know how to react to them.
I did get many visits from my wonderful friends in my last psych ward admission which was fantastic. I also received a beautiful bunch of flowers - the only patient on the ward to get any in three months, which just made such a huge difference, in such a hideous situation.
Thank you Vanessa, Tobi and Freya - Simple demonstrations of affection like this mean the world when you are fighting to stay alive so thank you so much!
Thank you also to all my readers who are sending suggestions and emails of encouragement - I know that what I am doing here is so terribly important and I beg you to keep sharing my posts so that I can reach more people who so desperately need help, support, information and advice. (By clicking three dots top right).
If you would like to read the hugging article in The Independent I have attached it here. There is also a video about professional cuddling on the home page!
Thanks for reading,
Speak to you soon,