New research by Relate NI shows the state of people’s mental wellbeing and relationships in Northern Ireland
When you first glance at the statistics from relationship support charity’s Relate NI’s polling, they make for startling reading.
Almost seven in ten (68%) of people in Northern Ireland have felt a sense of despair or hopelessness in the past week.
Over 60% (64%) of people asked said that talking to people had felt too much for them while 80% felt they are sometimes unable to cope when things go wrong and 13% said that they never have someone to turn to for support when needed.
“We know from our experience of working with people across NI for 75 years that the past few have been some of the most difficult,” says Stephen Maginn from Relate NI.
“Our therapeutic work is showing us that the pandemic has placed our parent, couple and family relationships under significant pressures which are now being compounded the cost of living crisis.
“Nonetheless, that 68% of people in NI are feeling hopelessness or despair is a shocking statistic.”
The research was carried out to coincide with the launch of the Golden Threads Project by Relate NI during Mental Health Awareness Week, which runs until May 15.
Relationships with the self and others were addressed within the poll.
While 64% of people felt that their relationship with their partner was fairly good or very good, people appear to be suffering in their relationship with self, which was the most common relationship people rated as poor, with almost two in ten (19%) of respondents identifying their relationship with themselves as bad.
Respondents were more likely to have a poor relationship with a father (10%) than with a mother (7%) while 9% rated their relationship with their in laws as either fairly bad or very bad.
“Evidence now demonstrates why good quality relationships matter,” says Stephen on how poor quality relationships can affect mental health.
“They can protect us from the effects of long-term health problems; help our recovery, and can even prevent illness in the first place.
“Poor quality relationships however can be a stressor on our mental wellbeing and external factors may give rise to disagreements on how to prioritise time or money for example, and this can cause unhelpful conflict in our relationships.”
Five per cent of respondents reported having a poor relationship with their children but 55% had witnessed their parents fighting or have fought with their partner in front of their children.
“Parental conflict can be especially impactful on children’s wellbeing where it is intense, frequent and poorly resolved,” says Stephen of Relate NI.
While almost a quarter (23%) of respondents said they did not know what a health relationship looks like, there was something positive to take from overall results.
“While unhealthy relationships can be a stress factor for ill health, developing healthy relationships can help improve our health and the good news from our research is that awareness of this is improving, with 75% of people saying it was important to resolve relationship problems to limit the negative impacts on mental health,” says Stephen.
“We understand that there is still a stigma in talking about relationships and that some people believe that ‘what goes on behind closed doors’ should remain so.
“We believe it is time for a cultural change in Northern Ireland and we intend to be at the heart of this change.”
Carrying out regular relationship maintenance is key to sustaining healthy relationships and good mental fitness.
With this in mind, Relate NI have launched a new project called Golden Threads, offering a host of new self-help tools available for free on its website which can help you improve your relationships.
“Some of the topics covered in these resources include communicating effectively, navigating unhealthy behaviours, relieving stress and showing you how to argue better — because let’s face it all relationships experience pressure and conflict, it’s how we deal with it when it happens that matters,” says Stephen.
“If we do so effectively, we can nurture and strengthen the foundational relationships that bring us joy and improve our mental and physical wellbeing.”
Despite the majority of people in the charity’s survey recognising the important Golden Thread between relationships and mental health, only 47% said that they would seek relationship support if their relationships were under pressure.
“Family and friends can be an important support structure, and confiding in them can help bring you closer together, but 60% said that they would rather keep their relationship problems private from their friends and family,” says Stephen.
“If you don’t feel like you can talk to your friends and family, perhaps it is those relationships which are causing you distress, then it’s important to seek help elsewhere.
“Relate NI have expert relationship counsellors on hand to help both in person and online across Northern Ireland and the self-help tools on our website may also be helpful for learning how to approach sensitive issues in your relationships.
“We know that many people wait until their relationships have fallen into crisis to reach support, in some cases living for years in relationship distress.
“It’s so important for people to reach out earlier to limit the impact on their relationships, mental wellbeing and wider family units,” continues Stephen.
“Even if you feel like your relationships are strong, relationship counselling can be an
effective intervention which can help you learn your partners preferred love languages or how to communicate more effectively with your parents or children for example, and this can help you sustain those healthy relationships.
“The first step might be to carry out some of the Golden Threads activities on our website and see if this helps you develop coping strategies.
“If not, then send a website enquiry or give us a phone call to explore your options.
“If you are in the Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Council area we will also be running educational workshops as part of the Golden Threads project.”
People contact Relate NI for various reasons.
“We work with all types of relationships, including individuals, couples, families, children and young people,” says Stephen.
“We have noticed that children in particular have been impacted by the pandemic, but it doesn’t matter if you’re single, married, living together, separated, younger, older, parenting apart, parenting alone, gay, bisexual, straight or transgender — we’re here to support you!”
For more information on Relate NI’s Golden Threads project and to access the self-help tools, visit www.relateni.org/golden-threads. The Golden Threads programme is funded by the Department of Health’s Mental Health Support Fund and administered by the Community Foundation Northern Ireland