January 28th is a day in Canada that is annually dedicated to ending the stigma associated with mental health problems and illnesses. Last year, I wrote a post about depression and the role that leisure can play in preventing and managing it. Today, I wanted to take the opportunity on Bell Let’s Talk Day 2015 to continue highlighting the importance of leisure and recreation in mental health using two interesting pieces of literature that have emerged in the last year that link leisure and mental health.
Leisure and Subjective Well-Being
Contained within the body of existing leisure research is the notion that leisure enhances subjective well-being (Newman, Tay, & Diener, 2014). Subjective well-being is comprised of a high level of positive affect/emotion, low level of negative affect/emotion, and a high degree of life satisfaction. Kecmanović (2010) has argued that although not necessarily “the” measure of mental health, subjective well-being is an important measure of mental health. Leisure and mental health, therefore, can be linked through leisure’s contribution to subjective well-being. According to Newman et al., (2014) leisure can enhance or support subjective well-being through offering opportunities: 1) to detach from work and other life pressures to relax and recover; 2) to choose what you wish to do and experience autonomy 3) to overcome challenge and improve skills resulting in a sense of mastery; 4) to make meaning; and 5) to meet affiliation or social needs. The authors further emphasize that some leisure pursuits could fulfill more psychological needs and enhance subjective well-being more greatly then others. For example, talking a yoga class at lunch may allow for detachment and relaxation, affiliation, autonomy, and mastery while live streaming a tv show on your computer at lunch may only allow for detachment and relaxation. While the relationship of why and how leisure influences subjective well-being is not completely understood (Newman et al., 2014), the body of research evidence is clear that leisure can have an influence and should be considered as something that contributes to one’s overall mental health.
The Role of Leisure in Recovery from Mental Illness
A recent study by Iwasaki and colleagues (2014) examined a culturally diverse sample of 101 individuals with mental illness with a range of diagnoses being represented including major depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse, and panic disorder. Researchers were focused on understanding the role that leisure in recovery because leisure was an aspect of recovery that has not been extensively studied and therefore may be an undervalued component of recovery. Researchers found links between a number of leisure concepts and recovery.
First, leisure boredom was negatively associated with recovery. Individuals with mental illness may struggle to use their leisure constructively and this may have a negative effect on recovery.
Second, having favorite leisure activities that were meaningful (e.g., allowed for self expression, provided a sense of peace; promoted sense of belonging) significantly predicted recovery. Helping individuals with mental illness to identify meaningful personal and social activities that are enjoyable and pleasurable may, therefore, be important in facilitating recovery. Helping individuals to locate enjoyable activities of interest could also work toward lessening boredom and it’s potential negative effects on recovery.
Third, leisure as a means for coping with stress predicted lower psychiatric symptoms. Therefore, using leisure, for example, to gain feelings of personal control or help manage negative feelings was evaluated as predicting recovery. Educating individuals with mental illness about leisure’s potential for outcomes that contribute to stress coping may be important in facilitating recovery.
Finally, perceiving oneself as activity engaging (have place to go, people to see, things to do) in various domains of life including personal, family, social, community, and culture domains, significantly predicted recovery. Perceiving oneself as activity engaged was also positively correlated with leisure coping and meaning being generated through leisure, and was negatively correlated with leisure boredom. In this way, having places to go, people to see, and things to do may offer opportunities for individuals with mental illness to experience meaning through leisure, use leisure to cope, lessen boredom and further predict their recovery. Working with individuals within communities to ensure they are connected, feel a sense of belonging, and are engaged may be important to recovery from mental illness.
Don’t Forget About Leisure
Unfortunately, only 49% of Canadians said they would socialize with a friend who had a mental illness. Yet, affiliation and connection are exactly what individuals with mental illnesses need to support their recovery and contribute to their subjective well-being. Consider the research. Consider the role of leisure. Consider what your role might be in facilitating leisure for an individual with mental health problems or illnesses. Help to end the stigma.
Iwasaki, Y., Coyle, C. , Shank, J., Messina, E., Porter, H. et al., (2014) Role of leisure in
recovery from mental illness, American Journal of Psychiatric Rehabilitation, 17(2),
Kecmanović, D. (2010). Is subjective well-being a measure or the measure of mental health?. Acta Medica Academica, 39(1), 62-70.
Newman, D. B., Tay, L., & Diener, E. (2014). Leisure and subjective well-being: A model of psychological mechanisms as mediating factors. Journal of Happiness Studies, 15(3), 555-578.