Social support and mental health

The presence and support of social connections is important not only for our physical wellbeing (as we need support in times of illness), but for our mental wellbeing as well. We all need someone whom we can turn to for emotional comfort in our troubled times – someone who can lend us an ear, share our happiness and achievements, advise us , lend us child care support or simply be there.

Social Support
Support on typewriter

Mental health is the state of mind that denotes how an individual reacts, thinks, behaves with others, and deals with problems in his life. It is important to sustain positive mental health for living a good life, and one of the factors that contributes deeply to improving mental health is the degree of social support that we have.
Social support
According to Lin, Simeone and Ensel (1979) “Social support is the support accessible to an individual through social ties to other individuals, groups, and the larger community.” People who are able to provide us with physical, psychological and social help and moral support in our times of need may include any of the following-

  • Family
  • Friends
  • Neighbours
  • Co-workers
  • Community members

Social support boosts mental health
Research has found that though both quantity and quality of social support is important for mental health, quality plays a greater role. It is very important for our mental wellbeing to develop our social relationships because of the following ways in which a strong social support benefits us-
1. Reduces stress and depression
The first and foremost benefit of having close associations is that we have someone to share our problems with. Just talking out our concerns with a trusted friend reduces stress levels to a great extent. A study of people over 20 years found that associating with happy friends made individuals 25% more likely to be happy as well. People who have helpful friends and family surrounding them are less prone to mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety. It is commonly found that depressed people interact less with friends and have lower marital satisfaction.
2. Improves self esteem
Being part of a social network is good for one’s self confidence. When we interact with a group, we become aware of others’ problems as well, and are able to offer them our ideas in turn. Receiving recognition for one’s ideas and talents from friends and associates boosts one’s self-worth. The person feels loved and valued when he is a part of a supportive community.
3. Increases lifespan
People with a strong social support network have happier lives and generally live longer. A 2010 study by Smith and Layton found that low social interaction was as harmful for health as smoking a pack of cigarettes a day.

4. Decreases loneliness
When you know you have a great set of friends to rely on, you will never feel alone in your troubles.
Nurturing relationships is hard work, but it is one thing that needs investment of our time because our connections go a long way in managing our mental health.

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