When I was hospitalized for depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts in 2019, I took classes on coping strategies, how to manage my conditions, and how to create a wellness plan to stay healthy. A big part of that plan involved building a support system.
I did not talk about my difficulties then. If I asked I would say I was fine, but I was in pain, lonely and overwhelmed. If you don’t tell people you’re hurting, it’s harder to get what you want. So after leaving the hospital I threw it all out. I blogged about my journey and told friends and family what was going on. It was freeing.
Opening up helped me stay accountable, which is hard for me because I don’t set boundaries.
I don’t mean to say that I lacked support when I was in that dark place. My husband and my best friend Maja helped as much as they could. He was the only one I was completely honest with and his support never faltered.
No matter what, Maja was quick to tell me when I was making bad decisions or not taking care of myself. She never let me skate, but was incredibly supportive. She was blunt, and while it may have hurt my feelings, I should have heard it.
It’s funny that my psychiatrist told me there were medications and treatments out there when they didn’t. She researched The Menninger Clinic and urged me to go.
If you’re struggling with a mental health condition, you need to have fun on your own. Having a solid support system is critical to recovery. Research has shown that a support system can positively impact overall health, especially for women, older adults, and students. On a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being “highly stressed,” a 2015 survey found that the average stress level for those with emotional support was 5 out of 10, compared to 6.3 out of 10 for people without it.
The Mayo Clinic states that studies have shown that social isolation and loneliness are associated with poor mental health and an increased risk of poor cardiovascular health and other health problems. Other studies have shown the benefit of a social support network, including the following:
- Improving the ability to handle stressful situations.
- Overcoming the effects of emotional distress.
- Promoting good mental health throughout life.
- Boosting self-esteem.
- Promoting healthy lifestyle behaviors.
- Encouraging adherence to treatment plan.
It’s okay if you don’t have support now. It took me a long time to build a team because I was afraid of being judged. The stigma of mental illness does just that – makes you feel isolated and ashamed. It’s time to end it.
Here are some tips from the American Psychological Association for strengthening your support network:
Reach out to family and friends. Simply saying hello or offering to help with a task can spark a conversation.
Use technology. Connect with people far away via email, text message or video calls.
Connect with people who share your interests. Join a club, volunteer at a local organization, or take a class to help meet people who share your interests.
Get peer support. If you’re facing a personal challenge, consider joining a peer support group to help you take care of your mental health and connect with people who are going through something similar.
Ask for help. Reach out to your local library, place of worship or community center to learn more about local events you might want to attend or groups you might want to join.
It may seem scary to ask for help, but the alternative is terrifying. One local resource I highly recommend is NAMI Greater Corpus Christi. I didn’t know about NAMI until last year; I wish I had found it years ago. NAMI GCC offers support groups and classes for those with mental illness and helps friends and family understand the complexities of mental illness. Everyone I have met has been affected in some way by a mental condition or a loved one with one, so they are very supportive and want to help.
I would not have survived without my best friend and husband (who were busy with the kids, work and my illness). He didn’t let me fall through the cracks like so many mentally ill people do. For that I am grateful and consider myself lucky.
His honesty is sometimes irritating, but when I need to hear it more. And I know they (and now everyone in my network) have a safety net if I falter.
For more than 20 years, Heather Loeb has struggled with major depression, anxiety and personality disorders while battling the stigma of mental health. He is the creator of Unruly Neurons (www.unrulyneurons.com), a blog dedicated to normalizing depression, and a member of State Representative Todd Hunter’s Suicide Prevention Task Force.
Now more than ever we need to take care of our mental health. Guest columnist Heather Loeb explores why and other important mental health topics in this special series.