The Value of Support When Coping with Depression and Anxiety

The Value of Support When Coping with Depression and Anxiety

High levels of social support—the experience of being valued, respected, cared about and loved by others—buffers against life stressors

Depression and anxiety are the most common mental health problems around the world. A survey conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration shows that, each year, 11.4 million American adults suffer from a mental illness that is severe enough to affect their daily functioning. Furthermore, the World Health Organization estimates that mental illness accounts for more disability in developed countries than any other group of illnesses (including cancer and heart disease), as mental health issues are often associated with unemployment, absenteeism, low productivity, loss of family income, somatic complaints and increased costs and use of the healthcare system. In short, if you suffer from depression and anxiety, then you need to get well, and getting strong social support is key. Recent studies prove how positive friends and family can influence your mental health, so find some tips to knit a stronger safety net that supports your wellbeing.

Isolation: A Killer

Most Americans who suffer from mental health disorders allow their conditions to go untreated. Although there are many reasons for this issue, the fear of stigmatization is one of the most common, because people worry that divulging their struggles with depression, anxiety or bipolar disorder could expose them to ridicule and judgment. Experts at the National Alliance on Mental Illness concede that these fears have some legitimate basis: despite medical advances and increased understanding of brain health, stigmatization against people who struggle with mental disorders still lingers in American society. This issue discourages mentally ill individuals from seeking treatment, because they would rather deny their need for help than risk their loved ones shunning them.

Like other marginalized people, discrimination shapes people with mental illnesses. For instance, people with mental health problems often feel lonely and misunderstood by the people around them, which means they have fewer social opportunities. It is easy to see why going it alone seems easier for some individuals who suffer from depression and anxiety, because the lack of support and connection exacerbate problems. In fact, Journal of Research in Medical Science researchers argue that, when feelings of futility and apathy set in, individuals are more likely to cut themselves off from necessary treatment methods and encouragement.

Of course, not all support is helpful. Friends and family members with whom you once used drugs or partied can be toxic to your recovery. In fact, people who relapse after detox cite social pressure to use drugs as the primary trigger. According to U.S. National Library of Medicine research, 24% of adults and 66% of adolescents who relapse finger it as their primary trigger.

Connection: the Cure

In recent decades, personal resources have proved detrimental to adaptation and psychological wellbeing. For instance, low social support commonly afflicts people with psychological problems, particularly depression, anxiety, attention problems, social problems, somatic complaints and low self-esteem. In contrast, high levels of social support—the experience of being valued, respected, cared about and loved by others—buffers against life stressors and promotes health and wellness. In response, while you may be afraid to open up about your problems, consider taking the risk anyway, because being vulnerable with others fosters intimacy. To get the help you need, talk with loved ones about what problems are troubling you. If that idea seems too outlandish, then consider joining a support group. Finding a community of people who share your journey and can relate to your problems will break your isolation.

Furthermore, a support group can provide a place for you to go when managing your mental illness alone feels like an overwhelming task. In fact, doctors who work for the Mayo Clinic say that, if you take a seat in the support-group circle, then you will reap many benefits, such as lower stress, fewer and weaker symptoms of depression and anxiety and less sleep trouble. More research to confirm these findings comes from the American Psychological Association—they state that one key to avoiding relapse is to find ongoing support. The more coping strategies you have (such as attending recovery meetings, calling friends when you are down or going to the gym with a friend to blow off stress), the more likely you are to continue avoiding drugs and alcohol.

Before you reach out for help from anyone, keep a few cautionary tips in mind. First, be discrete. Although stigmatization should not force you to deny your illness or make you hide from other people, you still need to protect yourself by sharing your issues selectively. In other words, make sure that the people in whom you confide give you good reason to trust them. Additionally, go slow at the start of a new relationship, which means resist the urge to tell your whole story at once. Lastly, be choosy about whom you befriend and date, because you deserve the best support you can find.

Recovery from Addiction, Anxiety and Depression

If you or someone you love struggles with addiction, then know that we can help. Admissions coordinators at our toll-free, 24 hour helpline can guide you to wellness, discuss your options and help you explore affordable, effective treatment. Do not go it alone when support is just one phone call away. Start your recovery now by reaching out for help.