When you’re facing difficulty or stress in your life, social support from others can be one of the most important resources to draw on in order to help you through. We all know someone who could do with this type of support, but it can be difficult to know what to do or say in order to help.
Everyone struggles at some point in their lives. The ability to draw on your own similar experiences or to make a connection between your own struggles and theirs can really help to provide much needed support at these times.
In our Community Health Networks study many people talked about the benefits of having friends or acquaintances that have been through similar experiences, and how this made them feel they were not alone in what they were going through. They could offer practical tips drawn from experience that helped them navigate their problem, or simply be there to listen with empathy. This sometimes took the form of specific support groups, but sometimes it could simply be the empathy that those around them provided, even if they hadn’t had the exact same experience themselves.
In our pregnancy and medication study we also heard how some women found it really helpful to either share their own experiences or to hear about other women’s experiences that were similar to their own. Sharing offered validation and reduced the sense of isolation felt by some women with severe mental health problems. Others found that sharing their own experiences helped them to move on from painful memories of the past.
Despite the benefits of this type of social support, people tend not to talk about their problems with others. In our Time to Change Children and Young People’s survey we found that only 26% of young people said that they had spoken about mental health with friends, and just 22.5% with family.
Case study: Peer Support in Hospital—A Shared Journey
Being in hospital is a painful experience, but it’s also a personal journey, and for me it was forming friendships on the ward that pulled me through.
Being on the ward is often isolating and frightening, with people shouting at their voices and sometimes being restrained by staff.
Befriending other people, getting their support, praying for others, and engaging in group activities all aided in my recovery. By taking part in group activities like creative writing or music therapy, I became closer to people – not as recipients of diagnoses of schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or depression, but as human beings with complex problems, emotions, and difficult past histor
ies). We talked about our personal experiences and difficulties and supported each other’s gradual progress and journey toward recovery. Importantly, I realised we were all in it together—I wasn’t alone.
Friendships—showing a little bit of love and care for each other—make the time on the ward easier and more rewarding. It can be tough and not everyone likes going into hospital, but I think the important thing to remember is that we can all support each other. It may seem like a little thing, but having a good relationship with another human being makes all the difference.
Ben Gray, senior researcher, McPin Foundation
- Who do you know who is going through difficulties right now? What experiences can you draw on to offer support?
- Simply offering an empathetic ear can really help in times of difficulty. Offer someone your support this way this Christmas
- Sharing your own story with people not only provides them with support but can forge a deeper connection between you. Don’t worry about saying the right thing – use these times as an opportunity to strengthen friendships