The importance of social support to mental health
âMental Health is a shared responsibilityâ
by Shunelle Nedd,
Social Worker at Mental Health Rehabilitation Centre
Social support is the physical and emotional comfort given to us by our family, friends, co-workers and others. This is knowing that we are part of a community of people who love and care for us, and value and think well of us. Social support enhances quality of life and provides a buffer against adverse life events. There is evidence to show that social support plays an important role in mental health. For example, people who are clinically depressed report lower levels of social support than people who are not currently depressed. Specifically, people coping with depression tend to report fewer supportive friends, less contact with their friends, less satisfaction with their friends and relatives, lower marital satisfaction, and confide less in their partners. It is likely that lack of social support and feelings of loneliness can make us more vulnerable to the onset of mental health problems.
In general, the best support comes from the people we are closest to. Research has shown that receiving support from people with whom we have close emotional ties does more for our emotional and physical health than support provided by people we are not particularly close to.
Support can come in many different forms:
o Emotional Support: This is what people most often think of when they talk about social support. People are emotionally supportive when they tell us that they care about us and empathize with what we are going through. For example, if you have separated from your partner or lose your job, a close friend might call every day for the first few weeks afterwards, just to see how you are doing and to let you know that he or she cares.
o Practical Help: People who care about us give us practical help, such as gifts of money or food, assistance with cooking, childcare, or help moving. This kind of support helps us complete the basic tasks of day-to-day life.
o Sharing Points of View: Another way for people to help is to offer their opinion about how they view a particular situation, or how they would choose to handle it. In sharing points of view, we can develop a better understanding of our situation and the best way to handle it.
o Sharing Information: It can be very helpful when family, friends, or even experts give us factual information about a particular stressful event.
How Do I Improve My Social Support Network?
1. Get more from the support you have: While being careful not to overwhelm support providers, ask for what you need from others and be as specific as possible in your requests. Itâs a mistake to think that people will automatically know what you need â you will have to tell them.
2. Ask for help.
3. Create new opportunities: Step outside your comfort zone; if you just keep on doing what you always do, hoping to meet new people, you probably will fail.
4. Let go of unhealthy ties.
5. Avoid negative relationships.