Social support is the physical and emotional comfort given to us by our family, friends, co-workers and others. It’s knowing that we are part of a community of people who love and care for us, and value and think well of us.
- Are there people in your life you can turn to when you just need someone to talk to?
- Someone to help when your basement is flooded or you need someone to watch the kids?
- Or maybe just someone you can call when something really great happens and you want to share the news?
We all need people we can depend on during both the good times and the bad. Maintaining a healthy social support network is hard work and something that requires ongoing effort over time.
Social Support and Mental Illness
There is good evidence that social support plays an important role in mental health or substance use problems. 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 or substance use problems like depression. However many of us will pull back from other people when we are experiencing mental health or substance use problems. In this way, mental health or substance use problems can lead to problems with social support and aggravate our feelings of loneliness. For these reasons, reconnecting with others in healthy, supportive ways is often an important component of managing most mental health or substance use problems.
Intimate relationships with a spouse or partner are particularly important when it comes to well-being. For example, not having a close intimate relationship (i.e., a spousal type relationship) puts us at risk for depression. However, it isn’t being unmarried (single, widowed, divorced, etc.) that makes us vulnerable to depression, it’s having a bad marriage! This is particularly true for women. Unsupportive relationships with our family (e.g., negative or overbearing attitudes and behaviours) have also been related to the relapse of symptoms in both schizophrenia and depression.