by Ari Borhanian
It’s easy to feel alone when coping with mental illness. The sense of otherness and general isolation can not only make it harder to get the help you need in seeking recovery, but can make your symptoms worse. This isn’t just the case with depression, either: whether you have anxiety, substance abuse disorder, or any other number of psychological struggles, having one or multiple support systems is a critical aspect of coping and recovering.
One of the main forms of support systems comes from family and friends. This is often referred to as your “Social Support” system, indicating a healthy relationship in which you and your friends/family can support one another emotionally, ready to assist in times of need. As Kendra Cherry describes in Social Support is Imperative for Health and Well-Being, “Poor social support has been linked to depression and loneliness has been shown to increase the risk of depression, suicide, alcohol use, cardiovascular disease, and altered brain function. In one study of middle-aged men over a seven-year period, those with strong social and emotional support were less likely to die than those who lacked such relationships.”
It’s not enough to simply have friends, of course. A major factor of forming positive social support systems is “Social Integration,” or the active participation in the relationships you form. This sort of emotional openness, whether it’s with romantic partners, religious groups, or other places where you feel a sense of belonging, is key to creating healthy and two-way relationships.
When you’re mentally ill, it’s easy to feel like a burden on others, or to feel like they don’t understand you. In times like these, it’s important to remember how you would want to treat others who are going through a hard time. That sort of empathy is something that you should, in healthy relationships, not be afraid to ask for. If you are in a situation where the people close to you would reject your request for help, they may not be healthy relationships. Also, you might be surprised at how many people are facing similar struggles to you: 1 in 5 adults are facing a mental illness, after all; you might be surprised at how many people understand your situation and are willing to help.
On the other hand, it’s important to remember not to put all of your struggles on another person. Mental illness is a real struggle, and, like raising a child, it takes a village. Support systems at their best and most effective involve a sense of community, belonging, and mutual understanding.
So what does a healthy support system look like? According to Vantage Point Recovery, there are five traits of a good support system.
Accountability, which entails not only ensuring that each person is being healthy and making positive choices, but also doing so in a positive, honest, and progressive manner (rather than through anger or punishment).
Fellowship, or the collection of like-minded people or those going through similar experiences. While not everyone in your support system needs to understand what you’re going through, it’s important to have connections to those who have been through or are currently going through similar experiences. You can find groups on sites like Meetup, or by looking into local support groups relating to your struggles and needs.
Education; having access to resources for information into the proper way to cope with and treat your illness is vital, as this is the best way to ensure that the steps you are taking toward recovery are informed and effective.
A sense of purpose, or the feeling that the system you are part of is enriching your life and making you happier. If it’s only making you feel worse, there might be issues in the form of support you are receiving.
Having a psychologist to discuss and address your issues with is an important element of recovery, even though often it can feel intimidating or almost like “giving up” to visit one. Nearly 60% of adults don’t get the psychological care that they need. When you go to your doctor for a physical, you are getting help with the treatment of your body—but this does not include your mental state. It’s important to try to create a comprehensive care environment that addresses all of your needs. Mental illness not only affects your mind, after all—your body is also affected, and finding a support system in which your medical care team is aware of the various aspects of your condition. Of course, it’s not always easy to get this level of support in medical care, which is why social systems are so important.
As you begin your journey to recovery, it’s important to have people in your life who understand you, support you, and want to be there for you so that you know you’re not alone in your struggle. Having a support system is something that you not only should have, but also deserve.
Adamgerbman. “5 Traits of a Healthy Support System.” Vantage Point Recovery, Vantage Point Recovery, 12 July 2019, vantagepointrecovery.com/healthy-support-system/.
Cherry, Kendra. “Social Support Is Imperative for Health and Well-Being.” Verywell Mind, Verywell Mind, 16 Nov. 2018, www.verywellmind.com/social-support-for-psychological-health-4119970.
Homawoo, Jemima, et al. “Home.” InStepp Inc, 19 July 2019, www.instepp.org/supporting-families-dealing-with-mental-illness/.