It is important not to try to deal with depression entirely on your own. You need a support system drawn from the caring, helpful people in your life – those family members, friends, coworkers, neighbors and acquaintances who make it easy for you to be yourself.
If you are suffering from depression, the last thing you may want to think about is socializing. Depressive conditions are frequently accompanied by a cycle of isolation – the more people avoid contact with others, the more depressed they are likely to feel, and the more they will tend to withdraw. But building and maintaining a strong support system is a vital part of your self-care plan. Those you choose to include can provide encouragement and help you challenge your negative thinking.
How does a support system help?
A network of socially-supportive people offers:
- Accountability. Being accountable to someone else has been shown to be a key factor in making successful lifestyle changes. Accountability works best when reciprocated ; in addition to reporting your progress to someone else, allow that person to be accountable to you for the goals he/she has set, too.
- Improved physical and emotional health. Support systems have also been proven beneficial for maintaining physical and mental health, including helping to protect against not only depression, but cardiovascular disease and Alzheimer’s disease. Scientists believe these benefits stem from a combination of increased mental activity, physical challenge and reduction in stress.
- Better problem-solving. Social support groups can help you work out problems and relieve stress as well. Regardless of what you’re experiencing, chances are others are dealing with similar issues, and may be able to provide you with useful strategies.
- Enhanced “brain fitness”. Even if you’re not looking to a supportive network to help you resolve specific issues, the interaction is still important for keeping your brain “fit”. From a bridge or book club to a golf league to attending a concert, interacting with others helps you stay mentally sharp.
Building your support network
Although it may be hard at first to reach out to people and ask for help, connecting with others is vital to your recovery. That doesn’t mean you need to share the details of your depression with everyone in your life. Who you choose to confide in and include in your support network is entirely your decision.
In thinking about your support network, consider the following:
Who do you want to include in your support network?
There are likely people in your life who have demonstrated the ability to be sympathetic and non-judgmental; they will be the best source of support for you now. Conversely, it is best not to include people in your network who tend to be overly critical, or who may make you feel anxious. You may wish to speak with your physician or therapist for help in determining who to rely upon as your support network.
Would you prefer a network that’s “formal” or “informal”?
Again, it is a matter of personal preference. You may find the formal setting of a support group led by a therapist or counselor to provide the best environment for you to share and receive feedback. The alternative is to gather informally with one or more friends.
What about sharing with people at work?
Deciding whether or not to share the details of your illness and treatment with coworkers is not easy. Your choice will depend on your individual circumstances. Although there is a much greater public awareness and recognition of depression as a treatable illness today, unfortunately there still remains some stigma associated with brain illnesses. To determine whether sharing at work is appropriate for you, and for tips on starting the dialog, see talking with others.
What if you have trouble identifying supportive people in your life?
If you don’t currently have a strong social network, it’s never too late to start. Even if your initial network consists of only the professionals involved in your treatment, it is important to begin to trust and share your recovery with others.
Humans are social animals. Our brains are built for social interaction. Look for opportunities to stay engaged in the lives of others, and to include others in your life. Consider joining or increasing your involvement in recreational, leisure or faith-based groups formed around activities you enjoy. Volunteering or taking a class are other ways to get out there and interact, planting the seeds for supportive relationships to grow.
You may also want to explore networking opportunities on the internet. There are hundreds of social networking sites that cater to virtually every need, interest and age group. While socializing via computer is one option to consider, this type of communication should be balanced with face-to-face connections.