The Best Medicine?

This joint research from NPC and Relate finds that good quality relationships matter for our health and wellbeing and can improve health outcomes; but long-term health conditions can also have a significant impact on our relationships. For relationships to be assets to our health and wellbeing they need to be resilient and robust, and so policy should reflect this by giving due attention to the importance of relationships in the health system.

For this report, NPC conducted a literature review of the research around relationships and health; interviewed government, charities, service providers and academics; facilitated a roundtable discussion with experts to review findings and develop recommendations; and contributed insights from our work on how to support and strengthen the health system. Relate—experts in relationship practice and policy—led the policy review and formulation of the final recommendations.

Relationships with friends, families and partners are fundamental to our wellbeing and the quality of these relationships has a major impact on our health. Evidence shows that our relationships can protect us from the effects of long term health conditions, aid recovery, and even prevent us from becoming ill in the first place. Those of us with strong relationships are 50% more likely to survive life-threatening illness than people with weaker ones. Our relationships are as important to our health as our diet or whether we smoke, if not more so.

On the other hand, poor quality relationships can also be a risk factor—increasing the chance of us acquiring a long term health condition and reducing our likelihood of recovery. As it is the quality of the relationship that matters, relationships need to be robust and resilient in order to both prevent us from becoming ill in the first place, or if we do, to protect us from deterioration and promote recovery.

Accordingly, a focus on couple, family and social relationships in policy and practice—particularly for support for people with long term conditions—may help to improve recovery rates and minimise the costs of responding to long term conditions. Putting relationships at the heart of healthcare plans will ultimately contribute to a more effective and efficient health system.

Relate’s The Best Medicine campaign 

Relate’s recommendations in this report sit alongside its wider campaign on the importance of the links between relationships and long term health conditions.

Find out more about Relate’s The Best Medicine campaign here.