Social support is usually considered an important element of strong relationships and good psychological health. But what is a social support network or a support system? Basically, it means having a network of friends and family that will support you in troubled times and ward off loneliness. Social support is the mutual support that builds you up during stressful times and gives you the strength to go even though you want to give up and serves as support for them when they are down.

Why Do We Need a Social Support Network?

Frequently, psychologists and other mental health professionals speak about the importance of having a strong social support network. When we’re trying to meet our goals or deal with a critical situation, experts often urge people to rely on their friends and family for encouragement.

Research has indicated the connection between social relationships and many different features of health and wellness. A poor social system has been tied to depression and loneliness. Also, it has been shown to change the functioning of the brain and increases the risk of the following:

A seven-year study of middle-aged men revealed that those with strong social and emotional support were less likely to die than the men who didn’t have those relationships.

Our Social Systems

How do our social environments affect our general well-being? And which parts are necessary for our health? There are two vital features of our social worlds that aid health. They are:

  1. Social Support

When we talk about social support, we mean the psychological and material means provided by a social network to help people cope with stress. This support may be in different forms and might include:

  • Helping the individual with daily tasks when they are sick or financial aid when they are in need of money.
  • Advising a friend when they are dealing with a difficult situation.
  • Providing empathy, caring, and concern for a loved one.
  1. Social Integration

Social integration means actually taking part in various social relationships. This ranges from romantic relationships to friendships. It involves: 

  • Emotions
  • Intimacy
  • A sense of belonging to different social groups including family, religious groups, social activities, and partnerships.

What Are Some Types of Social Support?

There are different types of social support networks that play important and different roles in your life.

Emotional Support

The people in your life can sometimes provide emotional support. It could be a hug or pat on the back as well as listening and empathizing. You know they have your back when you need it and will provide a shoulder to cry on when you need that as well.  Support like this can be crucial during stressful times or when you’re feeling lonely.

Esteem Support

This type of support is demonstrated in expressions of encouragement and confidence. Someone offering you esteem support might point out the strengths you have that you’re forgetting about, or just letting you know that they believe in you. Many life coaches and therapists offer this kind of support.

Instrumental (or Tangible) Support

At other times, the people in your social network may provide instrumental support. This includes taking on responsibilities so you can deal with a problem you’re experiencing.  They help take care of your physical needs and offer a helping hand when you need it. This could mean giving you a ride when your car is being repaired, making you soup when you’re sick, or helping you actively deal with the problem at hand in other ways.  This type of support is important when people have immediate needs.

Informational Support

Providing informational support can involve giving guidance, advice, information, and mentoring.  This type of support can be important when you’re trying to make decisions or big changes in your life. People may feel less anxious about problems they’re trying to solve when they have the advice of a friend they trust, a mentor, or a loved one.

Overlapping Roles

People in your social network may assume different roles. For example, a teacher may provide informational support and a parent might provide all three types. Having a solid support system like this means that you are more likely to get the kind of support you need when you need it.

Support Systems and Recovery

Recovering from a dark period of mental illness is an individual experience in many ways. Going through recovery means getting acquainted with your own tendencies and thought processes. It’s the time when you find ways to become the person you want to be. Even though recovery is involved with your personal journey, the value of support systems can’t be overstated.  There are several reasons such as:

Surrounding Yourself With Healthy Individuals

Cutting the ties with people who have had an unhealthy effect on you can turn out to be a difficult part of recovery. Associating with positive people helps you avoid triggers and stay focused on your mental health.

Opportunity To Express Your Struggles

Similar to any important change in your life, healing is not easy. And as you work on your recovery you are likely to confront many obstacles and challenges. A support group provides the opportunity to talk through challenges and stumbling blocks. 

It’s also likely that someone else in a support group has had similar situations and can offer insights on how to work through them. Talking through troubles can help avoid feelings of isolation which could trigger depression.

A Lifeline During Difficult Times

Throughout the course of your recovery, you will face triggers. Having access to a group of people you can turn to when you’re feeling low provides a healthy alternative to giving in to the triggers. You never know when you will feel anger, stress, or sadness because of situations that are beyond your control. As you get used to dealing with these feelings in a constructive way, you’ll strengthen your ability to maintain a positive mindset.

In the end, you are the only person who can walk your path of recovery. But the support groups you have surrounding you are a tremendous and essential tool in helping you to help yourself.

Loneliness and Mental Illness

A study conducted in 2020 by the insurance company Cigna revealed a fact about Americans and loneliness. And that was that more than 3 out of 5 people consider themselves to be lonely. For some people, loneliness is a brief feeling that they have now and then but for others, it can be more serious.

In psychology, loneliness is defined as the troubling experience of having fewer social relationships, or relationships of less depth, than you wish. Painful feelings of loneliness can start when you:

  • Experience rejection
  • Move to a new home
  • Break up with a romantic partner
  • Lose parents, friends, or other people in your support group

It’s normal to feel lonely sometimes when your need to belong is not being met. However, intense loneliness can be a sign of a larger problem and lead to unhealthy behaviors.

Loneliness is a Risk Factor for Health Conditions

Loneliness can damage the body in several ways. Some of the bad effects of loneliness include:

  • Weaker immune system 
  • Poor sleep
  • Arthritis
  • Unhealthy eating patterns that might result in Type 2 diabetes
  • Increased consumption of addictive substances such as nicotine, alcohol, and hard drugs

People Suffering from Loneliness Might Not Realize There’s a Way Out 

Those engaging in unhealthy behaviors to mask feelings of loneliness are hurting themselves. Not only might they become more at risk for kidney and liver problems and brain damage, but they are increasingly more likely to die by suicide. This makes it all the more important to help them visualize a future where they are healthy and emotionally satisfied. 

The Importance of Social Support After Treatment

People who are working through mental illness recovery need a robust social support system to succeed. Support from your family, friends, and neighbors gives encouragement and stability during a time of immense transition. Because of that, it is important that these individuals are reinforcing the healthy behaviors you learn in a treatment facility.

Friends and peers reinforce healthy living principles and can act as models for people in recovery. The lack of a stable environment can be a serious obstacle to maintaining mental wellness. Destructive environments can derail recovery for even the most motivated people. Evidence confirms that support systems are vital for recovery.

Receive Support at Harmony Ridge Recovery

Here at Harmony Ridge Recovery, we know the value of support. That’s why we make sure that our therapists and addiction treatment specialists are open to being a part of the support network for each of our addiction treatment patients. 

Harmony Ridge Recovery patients even get the opportunity to increase their social support network by connecting with their fellow rehab patients. That way our rehab patients can build social connections with people that can empathize with their situation. Building a social support network with your peers in addiction treatment also gives rehab patients the opportunity to receive valuable advice on their addiction recovery journeys from people that know what they are talking about. 

There is no need to be lonely in addiction treatment and recovery any longer! Contact us today at Harmony Ridge Recovery Center and receive support as you go through your journey to achieving recovery.