International Friendship Day
July 30, 2020
We all know how much better we feel after spending some time with our friends. In fact, social support is often one of the first things we think of when discussing mental health – ‘have you talked to someone about that?’. Social support is defined as the view that you, as an individual, are cared for, respected, and supported by a group of people. It also has positive effects on our physical health – which is linked to our mental wellbeing too. The effects of social support are seen across the whole life span – social support is just as important for young children, elderly people and adults.
Despite this (very obvious) relationship, there isn’t a whole lot of research that’s been done on the role of social support in mental wellbeing, or how we can boost it. However, what we do know is that good quality social support can enhance our resilience to stress. We don’t exactly know how this happens; we think it’s because social support moderates our genetics and our environment, having both psychosocial (for example, using effective coping strategies) and neurobiological (for example, increasing oxytocin – the attachment or bonding hormone), which make it more likely that we have good mental wellbeing.
We know that for people who are struggling with their mental health, improving social support systems can help this too. Not only can it help to alleviate psychological distress, it can foster hope in communities that struggle (like economically deprived areas). For people who have been diagnosed with depression, schizophrenia, bipolar and anxiety disorders, higher perceived social support (how good we think support from our social circles is), there are better outcomes in terms of symptoms, recovery and social functioning.
What’s clear from this is it’s not the quantity of our friendships, but rather the quality. Not only this, it is critical how we view our support systems. Make sure you reach out to a friend today – even if it’s just a 15 minute phone call, a video chat, meeting up in person or just a quick text – you never know what difference you might make.