Throughout our lives, we will all face challenges to our mental health and wellbeing, and often our first thought will be to isolate ourselves—to turn down that invitation, cancel that hangout, and disappear for a while. But it’s in the middle of a mental health challenge that we need social support more than ever. Sometimes it’s just so hard to find the energy and the courage to seek it out. So, let’s talk about finding emotional support, and building that network now, and that way, when you really need help, you’ll know just where to find it.
Social support isn’t just useful in coping with a mental health challenge; it’s actually essential, it turns out. Our social health—the healthy, caring relationships we keep and rely on in our lives—is a crucial piece to our overall wellbeing. Dr. Vivek Murthy, former Surgeon General and the first executive fellow of Well Being Trust, recently wrote, “During my years caring for patients, the most common pathology I saw was not heart disease or diabetes; it was loneliness. Loneliness and weak social connections are associated with a reduction in lifespan similar to that caused by smoking 15 cigarettes a day and even greater than that associated with obesity.”
All of this to say that caring relationships aren’t just a luxury in this life. They’re the whole point. We all need people to help us when we’re down, and to share in our happiness when we’re up, and to muddle with us through the in-betweens. Below find our considerations on what supportive relationships look like, how to build them, and how to make them stronger.
Who Do You Turn to?
Try to make a list in your head: who are the people in your life that you feel you can rely upon through thick and thin? The people we find support from may be close family members—parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, and uncles—but blood relationships aren’t required. Your support network might be made up of close friends, of teachers you trust, coaches, pastors, next-door neighbors, or anybody that is there for you and wants to see you be well.
“Your person/people” is someone who:
• Knows you well, loves you well, and wants you to be well.
• Tells you what you need to hear, not just what you’d like to hear.
• Honors your trust, and honors you with their trust in return.
• Shows up for both the good times and the hard times.
• Makes you feel safe to be yourself.
• Encourages you to be honest, open, and to share your story.
• Wants to help you figure out the next step toward being well.
• Gives you the space to grow, to learn, and to mess up.
Relationships all require maintenance work, and the work is worth it. Exactly what sort of maintenance is needed will depend on the relationship. Here are a few strategies to strengthen the supportive connections in your life, and how to make them last:
• Make a conscious effort to call them with regularity, or to email, text, or shout from the other room. We can’t expect that the other people in our lives will always do all the reaching out. One way we show the people we care about just how much their presence means to us is by making an effort to spend time with them.
• Make this support a two-way street. Rely on your person when you need help, but make sure they know you are here to help them too. Ask them how they’re doing. Show them that you care by remembering what challenges they’re facing and by checking in on how they’re coping. Be the support you want to receive.
• Practice honesty together. It can be frightening to tell someone how we’re really feeling, but when we trust someone with our feelings, we honor them with our trust. If someone is really going to help us, or if we really hope to help someone else, then we’ll need to be honest and open about what we feel and what we need.
• Practice grace. Just as we need to be given the space to make mistakes, we need to give others that same space—the space to mess up now and then and to resolve to do better next time. We don’t need to be perfect; we just need to be there for each other.
• Spend time together when things are hard, but also when things are good. Make plans to do something you both enjoy. Good relationships aren’t just to help us weather the rough patches. Good relationships help us appreciate the things we love.
Using Social Media
Social media can be a great tool to help us keep connected to the people who help us get through the week, but it isn’t a replacement for time spent together, face to face. We can use social media to strengthen our relationships by:
• Using it as a tool to plan in-person connections—scheduling a time to get lunch, or see a movie together, or hang out wherever you hang out.
• Checking in with each other when distance or other circumstances make in-person time together impossible for the moment.
• Building community. Social media can give us a chance to join local meet-up groups, and meet others that share our passions and curiosities.
We want to know who you turn to support, and how the relationships in your life help you be well. Join the conversation online using the hashtags #BeWell, #BeHeard, or #BeThere. Or share your #BeThere story about someone who has shown up and made all the difference in your life at WellBeingTrust.com.
If you need someone to talk to about the wellness challenges in your life, there are teens at Teen Line who want to listen. Call 310-855-4673, or text TEEN to 839863. Teen Line is open for calls from 6-10 PM California time. Another contact is Oregon Youth Line – Call 877-968-8491 or text TEEN2TEEN to 839863.