From the Front Lines: when Social Support isn’t Forthcoming

For those who are diagnosed with a mental health concern and who grapple with its symptoms, the presence of an understanding and caring social support group can make a significant difference in the quality and speed of recovery. Whether it’s a sympathetic family member or a small group of close friends, such support is often hailed as a major component of feeling connected while going through the rigors of psychotherapy or other types of treatment. But sometimes, this support isn’t available when clients reach out for it, an experience that can lead to confusion, anger, and disillusionment, as recently reported in a column at The Huffington Post. When clients are affected by thoughts, feelings, and behaviors which seem to encourage a sense of loneliness or alienation, this inability to find support among friends and family can come as an especially difficult blow.

The column reminds mental health clients that the choice of disclosure is their own, and that telling friends and family about a diagnosis, a choice of treatment, or the suspicion of symptoms should be an entirely personal –and well-considered– choice. When clients do not feel comfortable discussing their concerns with their regular sources of social support, or in the event that they feel rejected or misunderstood by those close to them, suggests the column, they may find the help they need in community or institutional support groups focused on the mental health concern at hand. As social stigma and prejudices against mental health issues continue despite considerable international efforts to phase out misunderstandings and apprehensions, clients may find that the road to recovery is not always naturally flanked by friends –but that steps can be taken to gain valuable support.

© Copyright 2010 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Joseph

    Joseph

    January 27th, 2010 at 10:06 AM

    Thanks for the above article .By reading article i think i can help my friend better now as he is under going psychotherapy.

  • M.anderson

    M.anderson

    January 27th, 2010 at 10:08 AM

    I would say that we should make more social groups to help people in need.

  • bronson

    bronson

    January 27th, 2010 at 10:10 AM

    I agree with anderson. We can help them better in a way by arranging social groups.

  • Heller regina

    Heller regina

    January 27th, 2010 at 10:13 AM

    Social groups should not only help them through the psycho therapy but help them gain there confidence back. And should help them in there healing circle.

  • Sarah

    Sarah

    January 28th, 2010 at 5:36 AM

    If you have a friend going through a desperate situation don’t run and hide. Be the frined and support that they need to get through this difficult time.

    I have seen too many cases where “friends” get scared off by the problems of others and instead of helping they turn their backs and this is exactly the kind of thing that the person in need cannot deal with right now.

    They need all of the love and support that they can get. So be a real friend and don’t turn away.

  • Gary Holmes

    Gary Holmes

    January 29th, 2010 at 11:00 PM

    The society is very apathetic towards mental health problems in general…we need to be more aware about these things as a society at large and should be helpful and considerate to such people whenever the need arises.

  • Elizabeth R

    Elizabeth R

    February 1st, 2010 at 5:09 PM

    When I was diagnosed with depression, I had lifelong friends vanish like snow melting on a sunny day. At first they were great, but as time passed, the calls became less frequent and more awkward and the visits stopped. I don’t blame them: I wasn’t the best company and felt I had nothing to say to them. Still, I was very hurt at how fast it happened. I understand Alone’s anger.

  • Sugarlove

    Sugarlove

    February 1st, 2010 at 6:37 PM

    Sorry to hear that, Elizabeth. Did you tell them it wasn’t catching? :)Seriously, some will never come through for you like you thought they would. On the other hand, I bet there were some that surprised you with their genuine concern for your welfare. Heck, people that were almost strangers to me were more interested in how I was doing than my nearest and dearest.

  • Martha T.

    Martha T.

    February 1st, 2010 at 7:36 PM

    Poor Alone. Forums and chats can be beneficial when you need to talk to another grownup that’s “been there”. If they haven’t, how can they truly understand? Some days all I need is another person to say what I’m experiencing isn’t unusual and it happened to them. I don’t always want to hear it come from a medical professional.

    Our peers shouldn’t be ignored as a support system.

  • Cassie V.

    Cassie V.

    February 1st, 2010 at 10:47 PM

    “Our peers shouldn’t be ignored as a support system.” With all due respect Martha, their advice or thoughts shouldn’t go unquestioned either. I’ve seen some of my mental health peers say very cruel and damaging things on forums and in chats. They did so either to push another member’s buttons, through ignorance or because they didn’t like the attention all being on the other person.

    When you lack social support in real life, you can become very wary of sharing your own online support system. Some of those peers come to see communities as their own little kingdom that none shall enter unless it’s okay with them.

    Count on the qualified professionals for advice that’s impartial and in your best interests. If you hear something you feel is useful from your peers, share it with your therapist or doctor first before doing anything.

  • themuse

    themuse

    February 1st, 2010 at 11:11 PM

    We need to remember when we’re in mental health forums and chats that the majority there are hurting too and feel fragile. Take extra special care to think before you speak. Anonymity makes it too easy to be mean when your day’s been rough but would you want another to do that to you? The solution is to not go at all when you feel low enough to be spiteful.

    We all have good days and bad, some more than others. Be more forgiving of those having bad ones, laugh with those having good ones and you’ll build yourself a reliable support circle.

  • Brandii

    Brandii

    February 3rd, 2010 at 5:54 PM

    With friends and family, I don’t think the hurt is intentional. It’s like a death. They don’t know what to say or do and would cross the street rather than chat to a new widow.

  • Jim

    Jim

    February 3rd, 2010 at 7:22 PM

    I don’t tell anyone close to me anything for this very reason. I couldn’t stand them wanting to help or looking at me with pity. I’ve always been strong and will always be in their eyes for as long as I can help it.

  • Rosalee

    Rosalee

    February 3rd, 2010 at 8:27 PM

    It’s true what Alone said about how these fair weather friends will attempt to drift back. That happened to me and I had missed them so much I’m ashamed to say that I let them drift right back into my life.

    It wasn’t long before I felt so bad about doing so that I couldn’t connect with them in any meaningful way. Did I really want them to think it was okay to do that? I didn’t. Eventually it all fell apart again and this time, I was relieved to see the back of them.

  • Katherine

    Katherine

    February 4th, 2010 at 2:29 PM

    I wish I had been more discerning about who I told. Looking back, I’d not inform as many family members. Friends were far more kind and compassionate. Family didn’t care much at all. Certainly not nearly as much as I thought they would. All I did was give them something to talk and gossip about. Perhaps I should take that as a vote of confidence in my coping skills that they didn’t worry about me.

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