The vital role of social support
Social support is a core psychological need essential to overall health and has been linked to many physical and mental health benefits.
Social support can be defined as comfort and support accessible through social ties, typically used to help cope with biological, psychological and social stressors.
It can come in varying forms including:
- Emotional support (e.g., offering empathy, concern, affective, love, trust etc.)
- Instrumental support (e.g., providing financial assistance, material goods, and services)
- Informational support (e.g., offering guidance, advice, suggestions, useful information etc.)
What are the benefits of social support?
Your relationships within your social network play a critical role in how to function in your day-to-day life. This support, whether from a trusted group or valued individual has been linked to benefits on many different aspects of health and wellness. These benefits include:
- Improved overall health
- Improved quality of life
- Improved immune system
- Improved empathy
- Improved emotional regulation
- Improved self-esteem and confidence
- Improved ability to cope with stressors
- Increased resilience
- Increased life expectancy
- Decreased risk of experiencing loneliness
- Decreased levels of stress, anxiety, and depression
- Decreased risk of suicide
Why is social support important?
Whilst it may appear we are more ‘connected’ than ever with the rise of social media and online communication tools, unfortunately, the instance of loneliness is rising. Loneliness is caused by a mismatch in the amount of social connection a person wants and the amount they have.
The warning signs of loneliness include:
- Low mood
- Low energy
- Lack of motivation
- Difficulties with sleep
- Changes in eating habits
- Increase in alcohol or substance use
- Feelings of sadness, hopelessness, or worthlessness
How can I improve my sense of social support?
If you are interested in improving your level of social connection and preventing loneliness, there are many ways you can do so. Tips include:
- Do not be afraid of taking social risks and seeking new connections
- Consider joining a club, organisation or online community
- Reaching out to others when you need support
- Prioritise social connections in your schedule
- Maintain your present social connections
- Be present during social interactions (e.g., turn your phone off and favour face-to-face contact)
Who do I seek for further assistance?
Please remember help is always available. If you would like more information or advice tailored to your individual circumstances, we recommend consulting your general practitioner.
Additionally, the following resources are available if you would like further support.
- Beyond Blue – Mental health service with a free helpline providing advice and support via phone
- Headspace – Mental health service specializing in providing mental health services to 12 to 25-year-old individuals
- Kids Helpline – Mental health service specializing in providing mental health services from 5-year-old children to 25-year-old young adults
- Reach Out – Online mental health service with a forum providing a supportive, safe and anonymous space for those who need it