When It Takes a Village: The Role of a Support System in Mental Health
Human life is fragile. In our individualistic culture, it is easy to forget the vital importance of human connection. We strive to reach our personal goals, maintain our independence, and achieve autonomy over our own lives. However, emerging from the devastation of the Covid pandemic, we can clearly see that we are not meant to do life alone. Today, the Racing for Mental Health team is here to discuss the importance of a strong support system in mental health.
Isolation and Mental Health
We are social creatures, biologically wired to interact with others. In fact, our need for social interaction is deeply ingrained in our evolutionary history and plays a vital role in our survival.
From a biological perspective, socialization and social interaction tell your body to release neurotransmitters such as dopamine, oxytocin, and endorphins. These are the “feel good” hormones – giving us a feeling of peace, belonging, and well-being. In addition, creating strong social ties enabled us to survive by offering us physical protection and access to resources.
In addition, our ability to create language and communicate enabled us to exchange crucial ideas, information, and knowledge, pushing the human race forward. Through social interaction, we don’t only survive. We thrive, expanding our perspectives, sharing ideas, and creating shared meaning and values.
Finally, research has shown countless benefits to creating a strong network of supportive relationships. Loneliness is hard on your health. People with active social support networks tend to live longer lives, have better mental and physical health, and report higher well-being. Keeping friends and loved ones close boost your resilience in times of hardship, setback, and loss and boost your confidence in times of joy.
The Lasting Impacts of Isolation
As social creatures, human beings require connection and support from others to thrive. The COVID-19 pandemic’s necessary isolation has highlighted the profound impact of social disconnection on our well-being. Even three years after the pandemic’s onset, we still feel the effects of prolonged isolation and limited social contact, underscoring the essential role of social support in promoting individual and community resilience.
Three years after the pandemic, 90% of adults believe we face a national mental health crisis. In 2022, the World Health Organization (WHO) released a scientific brief stating that in the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, the global prevalence of anxiety and depression increased by 25%. Worries over an uncertain future and social isolation resulted in millions of people facing growing mental health concerns. The result?
- Drug overdose-related deaths rose sharply across the total population and coincided with the pandemic. The rate more than doubled among adolescents.
- Deaths from alcohol abuse increased significantly during the pandemic, with rates increasing the fastest among people living in rural areas and people of color.
- While suicide rates declined by 3% overall, the decline only occurred among white people. However, suicide deaths increased among American Indian, Black, and Latino people. Suicide rates for adults ages 35-74 declined, but rates for youth and young adults increased.
How To Build A Strong Support System For Mental Health
Untreated mental health struggles cause widespread and deep-reaching devastation and tragedy. Wherever you are in your life, know you’re not alone. We are eager to share several ways to build a meaningful support system for mental health.
1. Know Who To Trust
First, take inventory of who is in your life and who you know you can trust to have your back when you need them the most. This could be a family member, friend, significant other, therapist, or community group. Sometimes you can surprise yourself with how many people you already have in your corner! This can be tricky because sometimes, people in our lives exaggerate our mental health struggles and bring out the worst in us. People who respect your boundaries are people you want in your support group. Speaking of boundaries…
2. Set Boundaries
Setting boundaries helps you maintain healthy relationships with the people who build you up and distance yourself from those who suck your soul. In addition, setting boundaries enables you to prioritize your needs and respect the needs of others. Here are a few tips on setting boundaries:
- Communicate clearly: express your feelings respectfully and assertively. Try to avoid passive-aggressive communication.
- It’s okay to say no: being a yes man (woman) always leads to burnout and resentment.
- Identify red flags: know what behaviors make you uncomfortable and then address them. For example, I can’t communicate when you yell at me. I’m happy to discuss this issue once you’ve calmed down.
- Define your boundaries: write your boundaries down so you know what your boundaries are. Be clear about your boundaries with yourself and others.
- Follow through: We know following through on boundaries can be challenging because setting boundaries often pushes us out of our emotional comfort zone. However, be consistent in your actions and words. Your self-worth is priceless, so don’t settle for anything less than what you deserve.
3. Prioritize Relationships
We know there are a million demands on your time. And often, when we feel anxious, depressed, and lonely, we choose activities that exasperate the loneliness instead of helping remedy it. We stay home. We binge-watch Netflix. We escape the world. While it’s easy to fall into this pattern, make a conscious effort to maintain and grow your relationships with the people who bring your joy. Schedule regular check-ins or weekly activities together to stay connected through the good and hard times.
4. Get Involved: Online Communities
Yeah, we all may be a little sick of Zoom at this point, but there are so many wonderful online communities to help support you in your journey. You can find groups on social media, forums, chat rooms, and online counseling services – all there to cheer you on while facing the challenges and joys of being human.
5. Get Involved: Your Physical Community
Consider getting involved in your community through various activities or volunteer work that aligns with your passion, value, and interests. Here are a few examples of ways you could get involved in your community:
- Library events (book club, arts and crafts)
- Go to the local farmer’s market.
- Take a community class or workshop.
- Get involved in the community garden.
- Join an exercise club (Running club, hiking club, biking club, etc.)
- Attend festivals and fundraisers.
- Volunteer at the hospital, school, local animal shelter, park service
6. Create a Crisis Plan
When the rubber hits the road and things get real, what will you do, and who will you call? The beautiful and messy thing about life is its unpredictability. Things trigger our emotions. Circumstances don’t go the way we hoped, loved ones get sick, and when tragedy strikes, we are often left scrambling to pick up the pieces. We suggest writing a crisis plan out for yourself with concrete, manageable steps to take when you feel overwhelmed, anxious, depressed, and alone. Write down who you will contact for support, how you will prioritize self-care, what you will do to bring yourself joy, etc.
7. Be A Proactive Advocate For Your Own Mental Health
Make your mental health a priority every day instead of waiting for a crisis to take action. Schedule regular times to connect with friends and family who support you. Engage in activities that bring you happiness and make you feel good, like meditating or exercising. Be kind to yourself on tough days when you don’t react as you hoped, and be patient with yourself if you struggle to reach out to others. Remember that every day is another exciting opportunity to prioritize your well-being and take steps toward improving your mental health.
Let’s Talk About It
We know building a strong support system takes time and effort, but you’re worth every minute of it. As you embark on your mental health and wellness journey, remember it takes a village – don’t try to do it alone. Please, comment below and tell us more about your mental health journey. Share your tips for building a solid social support system for your mental health!
You can also join our conversations on mental health on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter!