A support network describes ‘your team’ – the people who share your life that you can turn to for encouragement, support and personal growth.
Having a good support network is a vital tool in maintaining your mental health and wellbeing. As social creatures, our relationships and connections are a basic and core need, behind only physical and safety needs in importance. Support networks can take many forms, but for most people it is family, friends and colleagues that make up your network and offer support during the good and bad times.
The value of a good support network
Opening up to someone who cares can make us feel much better. It’s important to reach out so that people are aware of what you’re dealing with. Often we assume that people know what’s happening in our lives, but until you reach out it’s difficult for them to identify what you’re going through, or how much you need them. After all, if someone you know was struggling and needed support, wouldn’t you want to know and help them?
Many mental health challenges like depression, anxiety and stress can make us feel isolated, like we’re invisible and that people don’t care. Reaching out will often show you that the opposite is true. You may find that they have experienced similar issues and can offer relevant advice.
Opening up to someone and sharing your thoughts and feelings can also help to strengthen your relationship with them. It adds to the intimacy of your relationship and can help them understand you better. Sharing your thoughts also helps your supports become more aware of your signs, allowing them to pick up these signals in future and offer more timely support.
There is also the secondary benefit of you taking the chance to open up – it can help educate people about what mental health challenges look like and help them understand that it is more common than we think, reducing the stigma. Who knows, your simple act of sharing your thoughts may even help others do the same in future!
Building your network
Having different perspectives is an important reason for having a support network, as it allows you to see issues from different points of view. Therefore, its useful to have a mix of different people in your network, who can bring different life perspectives, giving us a more complete picture of the situation. Having several ‘go-to’ people also ensures you do not over-rely on your supports and exhaust them.
Support networks act as the first port of call when there are big events in our lives, but many of us will find a time when our existing support network cannot meet our needs. Starting a new career path, becoming a parent, or having relationship difficulties may be times when you want new people to talk to and need to add to your support network.
To build your network, first recognise the supports that you already have and the strengths they may bring to various situations. Then you can begin to identify where the gaps might lie and look for new contacts.
Consider people in your family who you ‘click’ with and are willing to offer time and advice who may be a source of support.
Friends can be a great source of support as they often know you well from shared experiences – try opening up to some friends you haven’t considered as a good support before. You might be surprised at what and who you find.
Workmates can be a great source of help about issues within and outside of work, and a good HR manager can also be of great support with decisions about your career path.
Neighbours, casual acquaintances and friends of friends
Build connections with people you see often in your life such as neighbours and people in your extended social network for potential opportunities.
Social media, forums and groups
There are hundreds of groups and websites out there that offer support to people from all walks and life and interests – Blokes vs Black Dog and Men Care Too are some we have found to be helpful for men in particular. No matter what you seek, there is sure to be an existing group, community or forum you can join.
Joining clubs, sports groups or supporting local charities are all ways to become part of a new community, meet new people and make new connections that share your interests.
Remember that support networks work both ways – make sure you do your part and help others when they are in need. Keep in touch with your network on a regular basis and show genuine interest in their lives. Putting in a little time and effort will pay off in the long run – you never know when you may need to reach out.