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During Mental Health Awareness Month—and always—it is important to check in on friends you haven’t heard from in a while. The COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting social restrictions, economic hardship, and widespread anxiety mean a sense of community is more important than ever.

Human beings are wired for community, and a sense of belonging and social connectedness are critical for our mental health and well being.

Psychologist Abraham Maslow theorized that “belonging” is a universal human need that comes second only to needs such as physical safety, food and water.

Researchers Roy Baumeister and Mark Leary posited that humans have a pervasive drive to maintain lasting, positive and significant relationships.

Other experts have claimed that the social pain caused by ostracism creates neural responses very similar to those caused by physical pain.

When we are feeling anxious, depressed or overwhelmed, sometimes our instinct is to withdraw from others and refrain from social engagement. However, this type of withdrawing can initiate a negative mental health spiral. If we remove ourselves from community and connection, we can exacerbate mental health issues, which in turn may cause use to withdraw more.

Conversely, by making small steps toward connection, we can elevate the hormones oxytocin, serotonin and dopamine in our systems which can boost our mood and give us the energy to make healthy decisions. This can result in a positive spiral.

Sometimes it is easier to initiate an upward spiral with a little encouragement from others. This is why it is important to check in on friends and family members regularly— especially if they struggle with mental health issues.

If you’re not ready to talk with a friend about your thoughts and feelings, the VentSpace app offers a way to anonymously share your experience and receive support from empathetic peers. Check out our website for more information.