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Are you ok? The importance of Social Support.

Psychology ONE Social Support

Last week, on Thursday, was RUOK day, an initiative of Gavin Larkin which started in 2009.  The purpose of RUOK day is to connect people, particularly those who are socially isolated, encouraging us to check-in on each other, and consequently reduce the risk of suicide.  Gavin lost his own father to suicide in 1996 and later had mental health difficulties.  The campaign has become quite successful in raising awareness of mental health and suicide.  We are social creatures, having started our lives in groups.  This served the purpose of safety as well as creating a sense of belonging.  We continue to need social support for well-being, to reduce loneliness, to improve coping, and for motivation.  Social support can assist in normalising our experiences and even to achieve goals, such as giving up an unhealthy habit, or pursuing exercise goals. 

So how can we look after each other and ourselves?  Firstly, if you are feeling low, reach out – tell someone that you are not okay.  And if that person does not listen, tell another.  See your GP and/or engage with a Psychologist.  Never underestimate the value of social support.  Consider how your social support needs are being met; in other words knowing what you need at any time.  There are several types of social support (see below) and depending on the circumstances you might need one type of support or another.  Sometimes people are useful for providing one type of support over another – consider the friend who supports you after a relationship break-up by lending you a shoulder to cry on, while another might drop off a meal or ice-cream.  If you are isolated, try to increase your social support networks; take up a hobby which involves other people, volunteer to help, or perhaps join groups of like-minded people. 

Giving social support is important on every day of the year.  DO start a conversation by simply asking RUOK?  Ask the person what they need at that time; but be aware that they may not know themselves.  Social support comes in different forms and it is important to match the support to the need:

  1. Emotional Support: Providing a listening ear, without judgement, advice, or criticism.  This is not trying to fix the person – you can’t do that.  Think “a problem shared is a problem halved”. 
  2. Practical Support: Giving tangible things, such as help to care for children, clean, or providing a cooked meal or money.  .
  3. Informational Support: Offering information to help people make decisions – for example, a doctor offering medical advice for health, or accountant for budgeting advice.  This needs to be undertaken by someone experienced in the information being provided, but this does not necessarily mean a professional person. 

Never underestimate the value of social support.  It feels good to give support and also to receive it.  This is what helps build connections and nurtures a sense of belonging, something we all need. 

Last week, also saw our beautiful Sunshine Coast ravaged by a fast-moving bush fire.  While these are not uncommon in Australia, this one presented a challenge to emergency crews due to the extremely dry conditions and strong winds. During a crisis, we tend to see great examples of support; offers of accommodation for people and pets, offers of food or baked goods (practical support); evacuation centres where people are sharing their experiences (emotional support), and; agencies setting up in community centres to provide referrals to services and financial aid (informational support).  These events, while devastating, often result in communities coming together to support one another.  Yet, let’s not wait until a crisis or a particular day.  The more we build connections within our communities, the better we will all be. 

Sources: Wikipedia, VeryWellMind

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Sharon Connell

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