For those just joining this series, we are revisiting posts from last year from the Women’s Health Week. Since then all of our communities have grown and to be honest health messages are well worth repeating regularly. I asked Olga if she would write a piece about the importance of a support system when going through a traumatic experience, particularly when it is health related.. She produced this amazing article that I am sure you will find both interesting and inspiring. Even if we are not going through difficult times, there are those that we are close to who are. Being there for them, in person or virtually can make a huge difference as I have found out in the past myself.
The Importance of Friends by author Olga Núñez Miret
Thanks so much to Sally for asking me to participate in her series of posts to celebrate national girlfriends’ day with a week of posts on women’s health. It’s a very important topic and one close to my heart.
I’m a doctor, a psychiatrist, a writer and translator, and evidently, I’m a woman. Although I’m not working in psychiatry at the moment, I worked for nearly ten years in male psychiatric units (because I worked in Forensic Psychiatry and secure units, like prisons, are segregated by gender. There was a move to do the same with general psychiatric units and in some places it took place, not everywhere, but that’s another topic) and I got used to talking to men about their specific health topics. But, I was also part of the Mental Health Trust group dealing with Physical Health issues (they tend to be forgotten and much more problematic to treat in patients with chronic mental health problems) and we had some great presentations and discussions looking at topics that affected women’s health.
We talked about staff, we talked about relatives or carers, but we didn’t talk about friends that much, although they are very important.
I was checking some articles about the benefits of having friends for your health, and all seem to conclude pretty much the same, having friends is good for your health, for your heart, and people with a good group of friends live longer. People respond better to treatments, suffer less pain… Of course the point is also made that some friends can be stressful and of course, we’ll worry more about the people we care more about. Older people who are lonely have higher blood pressure and sleep worse. Women’s friendships tend to be more geared towards empathy, sharing and listening, that is what we most need when we’re worried and concerned about our health. (Men’s friendships tend to be about companionship and helping each other with practical things, or that’s at least what the articles suggested).
There was a meta-study in 2010 at Brigham Young University (a study looking at the result of 148 previous studies) with a total of more than 300,000 participants where they concluded that people with high or adequate social relationships were 50% more likely to survive in the next five yearsthan those who didn’t. They summarised the negative effects of low social interaction as follows:
–As bad for your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
–As dangerous as being an alcoholic.
–As harmful as never exercising.
–Twice as dangerous as obesity.
(Check the whole article here: http://www.forbes.com/2010/08/24/health-relationships-longevity-forbes-woman-well-being-social-isolation.html)
You might also find these articles interesting:
And this blog post, with Infographic incorporated:
You might be wondering the reason why having friends is healthy (and I’m sure you have your own theories and you’re likely right). Nobody knows for sure although there are suggestions that the support reduces stress that has a negative impact on many aspects of our health (both physically and mentally). It is also quite likely that if we surround ourselves with friends who look after themselves, have healthy habits, exercise and lead an active life, we will adjust our living style to match theirs. That’s one of the reasons why so many gyms and initiatives encourage people to buddy up and go to the gym with a friend as it’s likely that you’ll spur each other and keep going, motivation becoming less of an issue.
Being a doctor people regularly tell me about their medical concerns even if they are not my patients and that includes relatives, friends, neighbours, and people I work with… But in my heart of hearts I hope that many might ask me not only because I am a doctor but because I am a friend.
I’ve been with female friends at difficult times. I went with a friend to hospital when she was pregnant and worried because she was bleeding (unfortunately she has a miscarriage a few days later), and I spent time with her when that happened, I’ve accompanied friends when they‘ve had tests, I’ve visited sick friends and colleagues post-operation. Sometimes one feels a bit weird about these things, especially if perhaps you’ve only known the person in a certain role (as a work colleague, for example) and you don’t know their personal history that well. But I ask and take advice. I recall when I hadn’t been in the UK very long and was doing my first job as a junior doctor training in psychiatry; the daughter of one of the male nurses who worked in the same ward I was working had a terrible car accident and was left in a coma. I also knew the mother of the girl, who was also a psychiatric nurse and worked in the day hospital. Although things have changed now, at the time we lived in accommodation within the grounds of the hospital (again, another story), so I went to visit the girl most days after work, if I wasn’t on-duty. Luckily the girl recovered (and became a psychiatric nurse like her parents) although it took a few weeks. I wasn’t sure I did much other than be there, but I became very friendly with the family and they were very thankful. As I was saying, it’s difficult to know what might help, but don’t hesitate to offer your support if you can.
Living alone and not having relatives close by, I’ve also relied on friends when I’ve had minor interventions that meant I couldn’t drive or should not be left by myself (not that easy when your friends don’t live nearby and the hospital is elsewhere). And of course I’ve talked about health concerns with friends too. When I had a health scare a few years back, and I had booked to visit my friend Iman, an A&E nurse, in Paris, she insisted I get tests there. It wasn’t much of a holiday, but I’m very grateful to her and her family for their support.
In these modern days, sometimes we might have a lot of connections (the jury is still out with regards to how much virtual connections help. All the studies refer to actual people you know and you can depend upon, and that’s more difficult when somebody might be thousands of miles away) but a non-virtual girlfriend is quite a handy thing to have. And the more, the merrier.
Here I leave you a few links to sites talking about Women’s Health.
The NHS link:
http://www.healthywomen.org/ (It includes a part for professionals, blogs, community…)
US government site:
Thanks again and please follow the whole series and don’t forget to check on your friends!
Olga Núñez Miret was born in Barcelona and moved to the UK to study in the 1990’s. She is a doctor and also a Forensic Psychiatrist until recently when she gave this up to pursue her dream of writing full time. Her fiction covers a number of genres including crime thriller, family saga, para-normal and romance. Olga is also a translator and works with other authors to introduce their books to a new and wider audience.
Olga’s books can be found in a number of formats including audio and are available in Spanish.
Olga has used her experience and insights in three works of fiction that follow Mary, a psychiatrist and writer, and her adventures in the series Escaping Psychiatry: She has recently released the prequel Escaping Psychiatry – Beginnings.
The first of her books to be published as e-book (October 2012) is The Man Who Never Was also available in Spanish version: El hombre que nunca existió. In February 2013 she published a Young Adult novella in English Twin Evils? and Spanish Gemela Maldad.
In June 2013 she published her first foray in romantic fiction: Click Me Happy! A novella where readers can choose between three endings, an unhappy, a neutral and a happy one. Now also available in paperback.
In May 2014 she published Family, Lust and Cameras a novella in the psychological thriller style. And in June 2014 her book ‘Escaping Psychiatry’ became available in audiobook, narrated by Emmy Award winner actor and writer Alan Cooke (a.k.a Wild Irish Poet). A light hearted romance for those of us who are addicted cookery shows followed with I Love Your Cupcakes.
Olga’s latest release is a trilogy – Angelic Business and all three books in the trilogy have been released in English and Spanish.
To buy her books and to reach Olga through social media here are her links
Audio books – http://authortranslatorolga.com/my-audiobooks/
Thanks so much for dropping in and would love your feedback.. If you read last year you might still consider sharing to your new and wider audience to help spread the message.. Sally