Mental health struggles require social support. Here is how to help

1. Social support
Social support consists of networks of friends, family, and others to whom an individual can turn in times of need. A support system will provide assistance in times of crisis. (Photo: Unsplash)
Mental health is a topic that has gained increasing attention in recent decades — as it should. With the expansion of awareness on this vital realm of well-being, those who struggle with negative thought patterns or mental health conditions are able to see that they are not alone. Shedding light on issues also provides the space for growth and healing, both mental and physical. اضافة اعلان

Recent research aims to understand the effects of support — primarily social — as a key impacting factor for mental health. A proper understanding of different types of social support can allow individuals to seek out those who can help when suffering from mental health conditions. Others, through a proper understanding of the role of support, can better help friends or loved ones who are dealing with challenging times. 

At its core, social support consists of networks of friends, family, and others to whom an individual can turn in times of need. A support system will provide assistance in times of crisis, or simply daily doses of much-needed affirmation and companionship. When you have positive people in your life, they can help you make healthy choices in terms of diet, exercise, and smoking. And arguably the greatest benefit that social support provides is stress reduction, with many studies showing that those with strong support systems have low levels of stress and, subsequently, lead healthier lives.

On the other hand, those who lack sufficient social support are more likely to suffer from depression, experience loneliness, and have altered brain function, according to studies. When it comes to physical health, low levels of social support can increase the risk of alcohol abuse and suicide.

Types of social support

Social support falls into four main categories. The first is known as emotional support, often consisting of actions and words that express feelings such as concern, empathy, and sympathy. Emotional support can also be physical, expressed through hugs or other affectionate gestures.

Esteem support (sometimes called appraisal support) is similar to emotional support, but instead of expressions of empathy, esteem support offers confidence and encouragement, reminding the person of their capabilities and empowering them to self-evaluate more effectively. Therapists and life coaches often provide this form of support, but it can and should also be received from those closest to an individual.

The third type of social support is known as informational support, and takes a slightly different approach. Whereas esteem and emotional support provide relatability, informational support is quite objective. It most commonly comes in the form of advice, suggestions, or information on a particular issue or situation. Although it may seem impersonal, informational support can be just as important as other types. In many cases, fear of the unknown and a lack of perspective can cause or perpetuate an issue. Informational support can help bring clarity and understanding to the individual suffering from mental health difficulties.

The final form of social support is very impactful: tangible support, sometimes referred to as instrumental support, is the act of providing a service or physical aid to someone in need, or alleviating responsibilities so that they can focus on the issue at hand. This type of support is especially effective when offered in tandem with other types.

A vital need for young Jordanians

A recent study conducted in Jordan examined the prevalence of mental distress and social support among university students. Mental distress is often described as a collection of symptoms such as depression, anxiety, insomnia, and fatigue. It was found that 65.7 percent of participants experienced mental distress. However those with a strong social support system experienced less severe distress, a result attributed primarily to reduced levels of stress. Additionally, it was found that, most commonly, support systems were made up of family members.

Another study conducted on school-age students in Irbid corroborates published data on the benefits of social support. It was found that those who had healthy levels of support experienced higher levels of self-esteem and satisfaction with their lives. Social support was also found to reduced symptoms of depression. The key to adolescent mental health, according to the study, was family support. The research also suggested raising awareness concerning the impact of support on student’s well-being.

How to support a loved one

Supporting those who are in your life is just as important as receiving support. So what type of social support should you offer? One study showed that the benefits of informational support are limited — but no amount of esteem support was considered too much. Translation: boost your loved one’s confidence with kind, affirming words and encouragement.

Another study found that the type of support needed may depend on factors such as gender and age. For example, older women tended to need more emotional support, whereas older men required tangible support.

Mental health disorders can be especially difficult to cope with and require extra support. If you want to assist someone with a mental health disorder, it is important to educate yourself on the condition (consider speaking to a healthcare provider). Most importantly, show your loved one that you are there for them for the long haul and will continue to care for them, no matter what.

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