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September 24, 2014
by Cathy England, MA

How to Build a Great Support System

September 24, 2014 04:55 by Cathy England, MA  [About the Author]

You Need Support

Very often when you are faced with dealing with any type of mental health issue or severe stress, it can be easy to isolate yourself and try to handle things on your own. However, one of the best coping strategies is to build a multi-faceted support system that you can access whenever you may need it. Some of this support can come from social relationships, family, professional resources, or support groups. There are never too many resources that you can add to this list. It is one of the crucial components of maintaining more stability in your mental health treatment.

A New Approach to Mental Health Treatment

Slade (2012) recognizes the fact that support systems are very important to mental health recovery. A global approach to mental health systems can go a long way toward making this happen. He suggests that public policy can make a shift away from treating the person as a patient, and to involving them in coming up with a recovery plan that works.  This might include expanding and re-imagining mental health treatment as it currently exists, with a large emphasis on providing as many supports as possible to the individual. He argues that this will lead to a person living a more fulfilling life which may be able to combat some of the common issues in mental illness.

Housing, Employment and Personal Relationships

Bovier, Chamot, and Pernager (2004) take this idea a step further to focus on how social supports may be even more important to individuals struggling with mental health concerns. The idea is that the more social support someone has, the more likely they are to have less stress, and stress exacerbates the symptoms of many mental health problems.  They define three areas where clinicians can help people to get the support that they need.  Included are housing, employment and personal relationships. When these three domains are taken care of, often people have better treatment outcomes.

According to the Mayo Clinic (n.d.), social systems are vitally important in the mental health treatment program, but some people have difficulty in connecting with these social systems. In many cases, people may have alienated themselves from friend, family and the community as a result of behaviors related to mental illness. However, these systems can be rebuilt and redefined. Working with a mental health professional to identify where support can be found may be the easiest approach. Social support systems can increase feelings of self-worth, and can be a source of strength when formalized systems may not be available.

Taking Steps to Support

The first step is to evaluate the supports that you may already have in place. Many people with mental health issues have a counselor or doctor who they see on a professional basis. This may be the only identifiable source of support in the beginning of your recovery. They will often encourage you to consider other more formal support systems such as a recovery support group in the area. This can be scary at the beginning, but is often a great way to meet other people who understand and will listen to some of what you may be experiencing.

Family and friends are often the next step. It is important to remember that these should be people who are supportive of your recovery. It may be difficult at first, because people who are not mentally ill do not always understand your illness or may not know how to help. But some of these people will want to help and you can point them in the right direction toward resources and information that may help them to understand. Answering everyone’s questions can be exhausting and sometimes irritating, but if you are willing to engage, it will strengthen these relationships.

Finally, engagement in some sort of community group or activity can be a valuable system of support. Some people find this through volunteer work, church attendance, or getting involved with a cause. Not only does this give new avenues for meeting people, it also gives some meaning to life, and increases feelings of self-worth and acceptance.

Support is Worth The Effort

It is not always easy to get through these steps and it is very likely that it will take some time and effort. But if you can see the value in it, recovery often becomes easier. One of the hardest things in mental illness is the impulse to hide or keep your mental illness a secret. However, more and more people are coming to understand that mental illnesses are common and are not something to be feared. It is important to know who is safe and how much is safe to disclose to others, and not all of your support systems need to know all of the details. But treatment is often more effective when it consists of more than just counseling or medication. The more tools you have at your disposal, the easier things will be.


Bovier, P. A., Chamot, E., & Perneger, T. V. (2004). Perceived stress, internal resources, and social support as determinants of mental health among young adults. Quality of Life Research, 13(1), 161-70. 

Mayo Clinic (n.d.). Stress management. Retrieved from

Slade, M., PhD. (2012). Everyday solutions for everyday problems: How mental health systems can support recovery. Psychiatric Services, 63(7), 702-4.

About the Author

Cathy England, MA Cathy England, MA

Cathy holds a Master’s degree in Psychology and has 13 years of work experience in counseling and social work. Cathy is an advocate for mental health awareness and enjoys educating people about mental health and the ways that it impacts people and communities. Most of her experience has been in work with court dependent or delinquent adolescents and their families. Cathy has also worked as a volunteer as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) for children under court supervision.

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