On average, a Facebook user has about 120 online friends. The number of those "friends" who are close to the individual user varies. For some area residents, just having one good friend or a group of friends whom they meet in person makes all the difference in their lives.
Throughout February, people throughout the world celebrate International Friendship Month. According to Marshall Greenstein, of Hutton and Greenstein Counseling Services, it doesn't take a whole lot to be someone's friend, and the mental and spiritual results of a smile or a random act of kindness can go a long way.
"The world as I see it today is moving at a rapid pace," he said. "Some are able to keep up with this pace. Yet others, many of whom we know little about, are unable to keep up with this pace day after day. A redeeming quality of this rapid pace has brought us closer together via the computer. It has allowed people to connect through the various mediums, and yet for many, even with or without a computer, connections with others are not wholesome. What we lose is the face-to-face intimacy and the benefits we derive from looking at people, seeing the expressions on their faces and making connections with others."
Having one good friend or a group of friends can make all the difference in some people’s lives. International Friendship Month in February is an opportunity to celebrate the positive effect of time spent with friends.
Photo courtesy of ST?Photography, Forestville
By smiling at a stranger, allowing someone to move up in the grocery store line or sharing an umbrella with a rain-soaked pedestrian - being a temporary friend - one can help another move from a bad state of mind to a positive state of mental well being through face-to-face interaction.
"Be aware," Greenstein said. "Be sensitive to the small things that loom large in spirit, for they send a message of love and the connections we all want in our lives."
Others choose to go beyond these acts. Some involve themselves in structured organizations in hopes of making friends or to help a person in need.
FRIENDSHIP FOR IMPROVED WELLNESS
Compeer Chautauqua, a volunteer friendship program, deals with adults and youth striving for better mental health. According to director Jann Ball, Compeer offers someone receiving mental health services hope, reduced loneliness, acceptance, a non-judgmental friend and someone who cares, while the individuals who choose to volunteer receive personal fulfillment and an opportunity to make a positive change in another person's life.
"People who are referred to Compeer for a volunteer have experienced difficulties with their mental health and are receiving support services to assist them in their recovery process," Ball said. "Just as one needs to use insulin if one has diabetes, someone experiencing mental health issues needs to be proactive for their wellness."
According to Ball, wellness incorporates the mental, emotional, physical, occupational, intellectual and spiritual aspects of a person's life. Each aspect of wellness can affect overall quality of life.
"A component of wellness is social-developing a sense of connection, belonging and a well-developed support system," she said. "Compeer friendships offer the healing power of friendship. Sometimes a person who has been dealing with mental illness becomes isolated, and that loneliness is a deterrent to working towards recovery. Compeer friendships provide an avenue to relieve isolation and also help someone feel more comfortable in social situations by having a caring friend with them."
Nancy Schuyler became a Compeer friend in 1991. Her husband and one of her Compeer friends, who she said was like a sister to her, passed away. She has had a few different Compeer friends over the past two decades and is currently paired with Joyce Keith. Both women have felt the impact of having a close friend.
"I enjoy this program," Schuyler said. "I feel it's worthwhile. Being a woman and now being a widow, I know how it feels to be alone. A lot of times, when they need someone to talk to, we need someone to talk to. There's so many people who are so lonesome, and I know I get lonesome too. This not only helps them, it helps me too."
"I didn't have anybody in my life, and I was kind of lonesome," Keith added. "I came to the conclusion that I needed somebody to talk to. I never got to go anywhere. I never did anything, so I agreed to try it. Nancy is one of the most wonderful people I've ever met, and we get along very well. I just love the program."
Friendship pairs are matched following an interview and a volunteer training process. Volunteers often pick their friends based on their matching interests.
According to Ball, Compeer friendships not only help the individuals involved in the pairs, they help reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness. The stigma can lead to misconceptions and affect the treatment of mental illnesses.
"Volunteers and friends alike learn we all have our ups and downs and we all can benefit from a supportive friend," she said. "A poignant comment made by a person who enjoys a Compeer friendship was, 'I like Compeer because the volunteers don't think less of us.'"
STRENGTH IN NUMBERS
Pat Smith is the queen mother of The Sparklers, a group of women who are typically ages 55 or over. She believes it's important for senior citizens and others to live active, social lives. The group occasionally gets together with other women's groups, such as the Red Hatters, for dinners and parties. The 20 or so Sparklers meet monthly at different area restaurants.
"Some people just stay home and don't do anything," Smith said. "I think it's important to keep going and having fun with your friends. In something like The Sparklers, you acquire new friendships."
Through Compeer, some area men also have the opportunity to enjoy the benefits of group friendship. The program focuses on group wellness. Once a month, volunteers and men working on their wellness get together for "guy time" visiting.
"These men have over the last two years enjoyed a variety of activities exploring our community and discovering the depths of knowledge and experience of life they all bring to the table," Ball said. "Each month brings a new adventure and new appreciation for each other's lives."
Within the group, the men have watched movies, learned about reptiles, gone to a Jammers game, bowled and enjoyed meals together.
"The time spent has brought a great appreciation for strength, resiliency, sense of humor, commitment and acknowledgment that our spirits are all lifted when time is spent enjoying the company of good friends," Ball said. "Friendship, regardless of what your circumstances are, is life-affirming and helpful."