Depression got you down? You’re not alone — literally. Here are some tips on how to harness the positive effects of social support on depression.
Humans are social by nature. While we all need alone time too, most people enjoy spending time around loved ones and people they trust.
When we’re around others, we can feel less lonely. It can feel good to talk with someone who understands or is willing to provide a listening ear without judgment. And practically speaking, difficult tasks become easier when we can ask for help.
With human interaction being such an important aspect of overall well-being, it’s no surprise social support can have many positive effects on depression. Here are ways to incorporate social support into depression treatment and your everyday life.
“Social support is any group or individual, whether in-person or virtual, who can provide some type of care, advice, or be a sounding board for a person in need,” explains Dr. Lindsay Israel, a board certified psychiatrist.
This social support can come from people, groups, and places like:
- family members
- religious clergy
- support groups
Online chat rooms or messaging platforms are also forms of social support that can have positive effects on depression symptoms.
“Many of my clients find their social support on Discord or other online messaging platforms,” explains Julia Simone Fogelson, a licensed therapist from Oakland, California who works with teens and adults.
Social support can come from a person you might reach out to when you’re feeling down, or a person you could call to act as your second “set of ears” when you need to make a big decision.
It can also be someone you might call when you’re feeling unsafe, and it doesn’t have to be someone you know. For example, suicide hotlines are a form of community-provided social support.
Lots of people feel like they don’t receive as much support as they need. One 2009 study found that, among couples, approximately 66% of men and 87% of women thought they didn’t receive enough social support.
Social support plays an important role in recovery for a range of physical and mental health conditions, including sobriety and depression, as stated by a
“Depression has a quality of feeling very inward, and people [experiencing] depression will often isolate themselves from others,” explains Fogelson. “It is often very difficult for people with depression to reach out and connect because depression is a huge energy drain.”
“Something as easy as texting a friend might feel like an insurmountable task if you are feeling very depressed,” she adds.
If you’re feeling depressed, you might find yourself ignoring calls and texts, staying in, or canceling plans, all of which can make you feel even more isolated.
“Isolation is not only a symptom of depression, it’s also a primary contributor to depression,” says Rebecca Phillips, a licensed professional counselor with Mend Modern Therapy.
In other words, depression-caused isolation can make your depression symptoms worse.
But if you have good social support, it can help relieve how isolated you are or feel.
“Having a good support network who knows your usual patterns and will notice when those patterns change can allow them to intervene and assist if you are having a depressive episode affecting your functioning,” explains Israel.
So, when you’re feeling up to it, you can strengthen or maintain your existing support network by texting, calling, or hanging out with friends and family.
There are several types of social support you can seek out. These include:
Emotional support includes care, compassion, and empathy that you receive from someone else. Often it comes from close friends and family or people whom you trust you can talk with about what you’re feeling.
“Emotional support benefits someone with depression so they do not feel alone,” explains Fogelson. “Since feelings of worthlessness can be a symptom of depression, it is important for the depressed person to feel they are loved and cared for.”
Practical support, also called tangible or logistical support, is the kind of support given by others to help you accomplish everyday tasks like:
- grocery shopping
- refilling prescriptions
- scheduling doctor’s appointments
“Practical support can be very beneficial to someone with depression, as a depressed person is likely to struggle with motivation and concentration, resulting in the person neglecting day-to-day tasks or [neglecting] to even schedule and show up to their critical behavioral health appointments,” explains Israel.
This type of support comes in the form of advice, education, or sharing information.
It can come from:
- trusted loved ones
For example, someone providing this type of support could:
- share helpful depression resources
- offer guidance if you’re considering a big decision or change in treatment
- suggest coping tips and techniques
- help you problem solve
Also called appraisal support, esteem support is the kind of support that boosts your self-esteem and helps you remember your strengths.
This can come from family members and friends who remind you that they believe in you, or therapists and life coaches who focus on esteem building.
It’s common for people with depression to underestimate the amount of social support they already have, because depression can make it feel like you’re alone in the world. “However, in reality, you do have people in your life who care about you,” says Israel.
But in order to take stock of how much social support you have, you’ll need to consider opening up to the people in your life about what you’re going through. People might not know that you’re experiencing depression if you don’t tell them.
Start with friends
Fogelson recommends starting with a close friend, parent, or relative. Letting them in on how you’re feeling can have uplifting effects on depression.
“Sometimes people are worried about being a burden on their social supports, but I remind [my clients] that these are the people that love, support, and want to help them,” says Fogelson.
However, if you aren’t comfortable opening up with your existing social support network — or you want to expand it — there are still ways to find new social support.
“I often refer my clients to Meetup.com to seek out social support,” says Fogelson. “You can browse groups based on your interests and identities, which means it will be more likely you will meet new people you can connect with.”
Find what matters to you
You can also think about your broader interests and look for an organization that relates to issues you care about.
“Joining a volunteer organization or participating in a cause […] can help you achieve connection along with a greater sense of purpose and hope for the future,” says Phillips.
If you’re not sure where to look for social support, you can try connecting with local organizations that offer social resources or group meetings.
Many community organizations, hospitals, and religious groups offer opportunities to meet and mingle or connect with others going through similar mental health circumstances. Consider looking online for groups in your local area.
“Group therapy is becoming ever more widely available through telehealth and is a fantastic way to build a person’s social support network,” says Heather Yassick, a licensed mental health counselor, social worker, and Grouport therapist.
Yassick added, “Group therapy is particularly powerful because it provides inherent validation through connection with others in similar situations, and often offers enriching and hope-inspiring solutions from professionals as well as others who have walked the path before.”
Depression can be difficult to live with, affecting your:
- energy and motivation levels
- ability to get daily tasks done
But it’s important to remember that there are people who can be there to help you — and reaching out to them for social support can help you navigate the challenges of depression and heal more easily.
If you’re feeling up to it, you can talk with those closest to you and express how you’re feeling.
You can also look for support groups and group therapy online or at:
- local community centers
- health departments
- places of worship
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is another great way to find a support group near you.
“Feelings of guilt and shame often prevent individuals from seeking social support, but these are the same feelings that often exacerbate depression,” says Phillips. “It’s important to remember that people generally want to support others, and many provide support because they’ve once needed it for themselves.”
Depression is a serious mental health condition, so you might also want to consider finding a mental health care professional, such as a therapist or psychiatrist. They can help you develop a comprehensive treatment plan for your depression.
Psych Central’s How to Find Mental Health Support resource can also help you find a mental health care professional.