The inclusion of being in a group can have a powerful effect on mental well-being. For some of us, the need to conform is an ever-present concern. We want to fit in. There is a shared sense of identity that comes from being accepted as part of a collective. It’s validating. It provides a sense of nurture, and in a way, we’re looking to replicate the same parental feeling in all our many relationships. All we really want is to be accepted.
Social support is vital to our well-being. Not just for the sake of vanity of being part of an ‘in crowd.’ Our long-term relationships with those closest to us serve as our source of strength when we’re experiencing hard times. There comes a point for all of us when we need to reach to someone for help. Knowing that someone is going to be there is a great comfort to us. It’s what creates community ties. It provides us with a sense of security and the knowledge that in times of crisis, someone will be there for us.
However, social support doesn’t always need to come in the form of emotional support. Traditional support might see you offer advice to someone, provide empathy or a sympathetic ear. But inclusion – social integration – is just as important. This is the day-to-day interactions you have with those in your peer group. It’s the exchanges you have with your family, friends and wider community that make you feel like a valued member of society.
It’s been shown in multiple studies that people with poor social support are more prone to experiencing depression and are at an increased risk of substance abuse. Heart disease has also been found to be an issue amongst middle-aged men with little to no social support.
The role of our peers in our mental health can’t be overstated. Those who suffer from clinical depression all report lower levels of social interaction than those who’re healthy. It could be argued that this is a symptom of the condition and that those with depression will seek to isolate themselves. And this is true, to an extent. But when a strong support network is in place, people aren’t simply forgotten.
When our needs are met, we’re less prone to stress. The link between a solitary lifestyle may seem tenuous. But when we have others to share our burden with, it provides a sense of reassurance. When we interact with others on a regular basis, we move out of our own headspace and are able to rationalise our fears, putting them into perspective with the input of others.
While our mental health is largely dependent on the choices that we make for ourselves, it is also inextricably linked to the company we surround ourselves with. The human mind craves interaction. We’re social creatures by nature. When you take that component away from our existence, it creates an unravelling effect that can have long-term effects, not just on our mental health but our physical health, as well.