What Does Social Support for Mental Health Look Like?


When noticing that a close one is going through a difficult time, we may feel compelled to help, but may not know how to go about it. A large temptation may be to take on their difficulties as if they are our own. But, this may feel like it leads to more frustration, is unhelpful, or even like it's too much. So, how can you be a supportive friend to someone who needs support without depleting yourself?


The following 5 components can help you provide the social support that someone going through a difficult time may need, in a way that is healthy and respectful for all involved.


  1. Check-in

  2. Presence

  3. Listening

  4. Self-care

  5. Recognize the need for Help


Let's look at each one in more detail:

Check-in

Take initiative and reach out!
  • Make sure to take the initiative to make scheduled check-ins, instead of expecting your friend to reach out to you. Usually, the friend going through a difficult time may not reach out for fear of being a "burden" or simply not able to, even with an invitation. A simple hello text can show your support.

  • Communication during check-ins can be direct, making sure to ask specific questions rather than "are you ok?" Leave the questions open ended to invite your close one to share their feelings and thoughts. Make sure to give space and allow for pause so they can collect their thoughts and process. It can be difficult to concentrate, focus, or even really know how to communicate how you're feeling when you are going through a difficult time. It's ok if someone doesn't answer a question right away.

  • You also don't need to push questions, which may feel like an interrogation to someone who is struggling. Simply checking-in to let them know what you appreciate about them the most or letting them know you are thinking about them can also be powerful and an invite to share more.

Presence

  • The most powerful tool in empathy, compassion, or healing is presence.

  • An important aspect of offering support to someone is how we communicate. We can communicate our care most effectively when we are willing to be present, both to ourselves and the other person. Presence means directing your full attention to the present moment or conversation without distractions. This can look like having eye contact, putting away or turning off electronic devices or cell phones, putting aside distractions, making sure to finish or stop what you were doing before engaging with the other person, listening to the story without inserting yourself or your bias.

  • Presence also means knowing how long you are able to maintain attention without becoming fatigued. This looks like having healthy boundaries when it comes to your time. If you have time to spare, make sure you communicate how long (ex: saying directly that you have 15mins before needing to prepare to go to school or work, or saying "I need to leave at 2pm."). It is also important to make sure you are completing your own important tasks, you can set a mutually agreed upon time (ex: saying "In 20mins I can give the conversation more attention, I need to finish my wor