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“It’s the friends you can call up at 4 a.m. that matter.” Marlene Dietrich

“Things are never quite as scary when you’ve got a best friend.” Bill Watterson

“Be slow to fall into friendship; but when thou art in, continue firm and constant.” Socrates

Last month, the Wall Street Journal among other news outlets published a disturbing study regarding the suicide rates in the last decade and a half. They rose 24 percent after declining for quite some time. Although more men continue to take their own lives, the rate for women increased markedly. From 1999 to 2014, there was an increase of 80 percent in suicides of white women between the ages of 45 and 64. This was a most daunting revelation and quite complex to discern one salient reason for the rise. Financial ruin as well as substance addiction were some of the factors suggested.

Being in the mental health profession, I would like to hypothesize another reason which is the breakdown in social connections. Several months ago, a young man posted that he had 300 Facebook friends but no one with whom he could spend time. I believe this is indicative of our society. Many people are connected through virtual avenues yet are increasingly disengaged. The Internet is a wonderful tool, but it does not replace the human relationship no matter how much progress we make. Unfortunately for some, betrayal and breach of trust have contributed to their desire to escape from human contact and seek out associations through the anonymous world of virtual communication.MFor others, less family and decreased community involvement have contributed to a sense of isolation. Some middle-aged women often get divorced and become empty-nesters simultaneously. As a result, they find their roles altered as well as their sense of identity, and frequently, they find themselves at a loss of what to do. If there is financial breakdown, this may cause depression, and ultimately, drugs and alcohol are often abused to assuage their pain. Consequently, depression may exacerbate which may fuel suicidal ideation and possible gesture. In addition to seeking mental health treatment, I believe increasing the human connection can help ward off the impulse of actual suicide.

How do people develop stronger social connections at such a later time in their life? It is not an easy venture, yet, it is most important for one to pursue in order to stay connected to the world. There are many organizations which offer ways to meet like-minded people. Although there are never guarantees, many of the groups are made just to connect. There are some through religious, political and outdoor organizations. If those do not meet one’s fancy, there is the growing organization of Meet Up with gatherings for interests across a broad spectrum. It is obvious that so many people wish to connect with others, and in the 21st century, there is more available than ever before.

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to see all four of my long-term friends at different times. It was a treat for me and reminded me of how blessed I am to have had these wonderful women in my life for over thirty years. With that said, I continue to involve myself in areas of interest where I am making new connections as well as getting re-acquainted with friends from long ago. To me, meeting with friends is always so fulfilling. It feels like a natural high, and the research validates my experience. A few weeks ago, the University of Oxford, published a paper in Scientific Reports indicating that people with larger social networks release more pain-killing endorphin. The message was that friends are ‘better than morphine.’

If you are looking to increase your feelings of pleasure, go out and try to meet new people. It may take some time, but eventually, it will pay off and you might find yourself experiencing a natural high more often than you ever thought possible.

Related:

McKay, Betsy. “Suicides In The U.S. Climb After Years Of Decline.” Wall Street Journal 22 April. 2016. Web.

University of Oxford. “Friends ‘better than morphine’: Larger social networks release more pain-killing endorphin.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 28 April 2016. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/04/160428094448.htm>.