What is International Day of Friendship?
International Day of Friendship is a day to appreciate and promote friendships from all backgrounds. Celebrated on the 30 July each year, the day aims to bridge the gaps between factors such as race, language and culture.
International Day of Friendship was started in 2011 by the UN General Assembly with the idea that friendship between peoples, countries, cultures and individuals can inspire peace efforts and build bridges between communities.
Why is International Day of Friendship important?
Friendship requires empathy, compassion and concern for other people. By valuing and celebrating friendship, we foster these characteristics and adopt a more selfless and grateful outlook on life. Across communities, International Day of Friendship can help build and strengthen relationships in spite of differences in cultures.
One of our consultant psychotherapists has told us a little more about the positive effects of friendship on mental health:
Research links good friendships to:
- improved mental health (mainly in anxiety and depression)
- Feelings of belonging and purpose
- Increased levels of happiness
- reduced stress levels
- reductions in self harming behaviours
- improved self-worth and confidence.
Generally speaking, people live longer, happier, healthier lives if they have strong networks of friends and family around them. They are also less likely to need to access mental health services. Some studies show this extends to communities – i.e., social cohesion can be linked to a reduction in depressive symptoms in older people. (Stafford, M., McMunn, A., & de Vogli, R., 2011)
Friendship links to attachment – there have been a number of experiments that require people to talk about a difficult experience and that show people’s blood pressure and heart rate lowers when they have a supportive friend present.
The other side of the coin is loneliness which is linked to depression and, even, poor physical health outcomes - one study showed a 26% increase in risk of early mortality in individuals classed as lonely (Holt-Lunstad, J. et al, 2015). Friendship is protective in this regard, but also aids in recovery following mental health difficulties.
Lindsay Royan, consultant clinical psychologist, has shared a little song with us, share with someone today and keep the smiles spreading!
A smile is quite a funny thing
It wrinkles up your face,
And when it’s gone you’ll never find
It’s secret hiding place.
But far more wonderful than this
Is to see what smiles can do,
You smile to one
He smiles to you,
And then one smile makes two.
Friendship through the pandemic
This year, more so than any other year, the importance of our friendships has been highlighted.
Most of us have been away from our closest friends for a long time now and have had to find new ways to spend time with them and maintain their bonds with them. Many have been seeing friends through Zoom and making use of social media to keep up with each other.
During a time where many of us may feel isolated from the rest of the world, it’s vital that we maintain strong friendships with people we feel close to, because as part of a wider group, we can more easily bring positivity to the wider world.
On the other hand, with many of our usual daily activities being cancelled, the pandemic has provided many with a little more time to invest in friendships. People have had more time to think about their friendships and their communities, many doing small (and big!) acts of kindness for others, helping to strengthen current friendships and forge new friendships.
Volunteering and friendship at NELFT
Our volunteers had been offering a befriending service on wards before the pandemic and have tried to continue offering help and companionship in other ways during the pandemic including a check in and chat service. The team are looking to introduce their volunteers back into wards at Brentwood Community Hospital (BCH) with a focus on befriending to help combat loneliness and boredom.
Our volunteers also run our patient messaging service, an online service where friends and family can leave messages and images for patients at BCH which will then be delivered to the patient by our volunteers. Anyone can also leave a message for a patient (you don’t have to know them) just to say hello or get well soon and these will be distributed to patients who wouldn’t normally receive contact from family or friends, these messages can really brighten up a patients day and therefore improve their mental wellbeing which as mentioned above can then help improve their physical wellbeing.
How can International Day of Friendship be celebrated this year?
The Eden Project has created a list of things we can do to celebrate this year:
- Step outside and spend a little more time outside your front door - This is a simple way to connect with neighbours passing by and all you need to do is step outside – easy peasy.
- A smile, wave or hello can go a long way - Smiling is contagious – in a good way! Loneliness is an issue across all ages, and many of us are feeling more anxious and isolated at the moment.A simple smile or a ‘hi’ could be the only contact a person has had that day and could make a huge difference to how they’re feeling. It might also make you feel happier and a little more connected so be brave and start to wave!
- Get playful - Awaken your inner child and draw a hopscotch or giant snakes and ladders on the pavement in chalk. You’ll be surprised by how many people will have a go as they walk by – we can’t help ourselves!
- Make time for a cuppa - Have a natter with a neighbour over a cuppa and don’t forget the biscuits! Whether in a garden, in a park or outside your front doors, you can’t beat a good old catch up.
- Clean-up your street or local area - Grab a litter picker and some gloves and get started, try to separate the rubbish as you go so you can recycle as much as possible. We’re pretty sure you’ll pick up a few litter picking friends along the way and soon your streets will be spotless!
- Start a community trail - Set up a trail around your local area for people to follow and explore. You could use existing landmarks or trees to mark out turning points or add painted stones, signs or flags to spot along the way. Try to keep it nature friendly, and if you’re feeling really creative, add clues to make it a bit trickier!
- Start a rock snake in your community - We spotted this cute idea in Our Community Facebook group, it’s a great way to get the kids busy and crafty too. Decorate the rocks however you like, perhaps with a message of thanks or support, or a colourful painting to brighten someone’s day. To get your community on board, pop up a sign telling people about it to encourage others to join in – we guarantee spotting the snake will add a little sunshine to someone’s day.
- Get a group together - You could start a group with like-minded folk to bring your community together. This could be a book club, a community garden or get those steps in by suggesting a neighbourhood walking group. If you’re not feeling a book club, you could take a book you love, and hide it in your local area – you’ll get to share your favourite read and give your book new life, whilst someone else gets to share your experience. Starting something local makes it easier for people to join too.
- Create your very own fairy house - Create a little magic in your local park by adding a little fairy house or two. Find a spot to locate your tiny house to keep it safe from the worst of the weather (whether that’s snug between branches, or at the base of the tree) and try to keep the materials as natural as you can so it doesn’t end up as litter.
- Go green! - Greening (adding plants, trees and green spaces to an urban environment to make it a better place to live and work) helps people connect with nature, cleans our air and makes an area that little bit prettier! Why not get started by planting a flower in your street and encouraging others to join too?