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Conversation Cafe

17 February 2017

Socialising is hard---it’s hard for everyone and particularly for people with certain mental health issues like depression and social anxiety. Going out and meeting people can be really daunting, especially if you’re not drinking or taking recreational drugs, which many people who come to the Changes groups are trying to not do, or to at least minimise their reliance on. But socialising with others seems to be the most important factor in determining not only good physical health (lack of illness, recovery from illness, recovery from injury etc.) but also good mental health. In short, being sociable is good for you. 

And while technological communication can definitely be a valuable addition to face-to-face socialising, it can’t ever really take its place. People experience a very definite, almost physical, sense of wellbeing after a good, meaningful face-to-face social interaction...and ‘meaningful’ doesn’t have to be involve talking about a complicated subject, or sharing a lot of very personal information...it just involves being genuine and open and interested in others.     

When I attended the Conversation Café organised by Bristol Mental Health at the beginning of February I didn’t really know what to expect. Thinking of myself as someone who is fairly sociable but also introverted, who basically likes people, but also finds them unnerving, I was dubious about it and, if it wasn’t for the fact that I felt an obligation to research it for the Changes newsletter, I possibly would have bottled out completely…

It was held in the basement of the Arts Café in Stokes Croft and involved a small group of people (about seven) gathered around a couple of tables. They were immediately welcoming and friendly, I was offered free coffee (there was also various kinds of tea) and biscuits, and I introduced myself and sat down to instantly begin a conversation…

This conversation flowed freely, sometimes one conversation involving the whole table, sometimes smaller groups of two or three, chatting among themselves. The conversations covered such topics as movies, technology, travelling, families…the people there were both male and female, with some mix of race and nationality, and their ages ranged from twenties to sixties.

There were many things that made it really enjoyable:

  • Firstly you could join in with a conversation without ever feeling you were pushing in on a ‘private’ chat
  • Secondly, if you wanted to sit quietly and not say anything for a while, you weren’t made to feel awkward or left out
  • Thirdly no-one interrupted the conversations by obsessively talking on, or playing with, their phones. I know that often the reason people do play with their phones in social situations is that they feel awkward (this was actually a topic that was discussed) and it was quite indicative of how relaxed people seemed to be that no-one did this
  • Fourthly, socialising without being drunk or drugged up was a real refreshing change...I, for one, have generally found this really difficult in the past
  • Lastly, people came and went as they pleased, without it seeming rude—I had to leave a bit early as I had to meet someone, so just said goodbye to everyone in a friendly fashion (without feeling awkward), said that it was nice to meet them and I hoped to see them again...which was true.

At the moment it’s not certain when the next Conversation Café will be held, but Bristol Mental Health will let me know and I’ll pass the info on. I’d definitely encourage people to give it a try...if you don’t like it, as said above, you can just leave without any problem.

There also seem to be other venues in Bristol which, although not exactly the same, do allow for, and positively encourage, socialising with strangers, and I’ll review as many as I can find in future newsletters. And some Changes members are thinking of starting something similar ourselves...watch this space...   

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