The good news is that there are many great resources out there for people who need mental health support: therapy, medications, crisis hotlines, inpatient services, etc. In addition, you’ve probably heard about some wellness habits you can adopt to boost your mental health, like mindfulness, exercise, and spending time in nature.

But one area that often gets overlooked in these situations is social connection. While all the resources listed above can contribute to better mental health, a strong support system can have just as significant an impact. Learn more about why you need a support system and how you can build one for yourself.

What Is a Support System?

A support system is a network of individuals you can rely on for help when you need it. Usually, it’s a combination of close friends and family members who you feel comfortable and safe with.

The type of support that your network provides can vary based on their availability and abilities. The loved ones you consider to be part of this group may offer emotional support when you need someone to talk to or want advice about a specific problem you’re facing. Some folks may be better equipped to provide practical forms of support, like driving you to therapy appointments or making you a meal when you’re too depressed to cook. The people in your support system are the ones who will show up for you — in good times and in bad.

Why Is It Important to Have a Support System?

A support system is an important form of social connection. Even when you’re not struggling, having this system in place benefits you in a number of ways, including improved mental health. Some of the other advantages associated with personal support systems include:

  • Reduced loneliness: People with a support system are less likely to be socially isolated or lonely. This is especially important to consider amidst the current loneliness epidemic.
  • Better overall health: Poor social support has been linked to a higher risk for depression, suicide, alcohol use, dementia, stroke, and cardiovascular disease. Having supportive social connections can help to avoid this increased risk.
  • Improved resiliency: If someone has a social support system in place, they tend to exhibit more resiliency when faced with setbacks, losses, or stress.
  • Increased self-esteem: Having a support system is associated with higher levels of self-esteem, confidence, and life satisfaction.

5 Ways to Develop a Strong Support System

Many people don’t have a built-in support system. Instead, they have to cultivate one. Learning how to build a support system is a great skill that will benefit you throughout your life. And once you have a small network of those you feel like you can rely on, you can continue to nurture, strengthen, and grow that network over time. Try the following tips to develop your support system.

Get closer to those you know

Think about your current social circle of friends, family, and peers. Are there any people who you feel you could be closer with? Try to nurture that relationship by spending more one-on-one time together. Try to open up to them, and invite them to do the same.

Find like-minded people

If you don’t have many family members or friends who you can get closer to at the moment, look for people who share your interests. Join clubs, volunteer, or participate in group activities to meet new people in a fun, relaxed setting.

Go online

While it’s important to have some friends who can be there for you in person, online friends can also provide support in certain ways. This can be a great option if you find it easier to share your true self through written messages than talking face-to-face.

Join a support group

Peer support groups can be an excellent source of social support when you’re having a tough time. As an added benefit, the people in these groups are likely to have first-hand experience with what you’re going through. It can be powerful to have someone truly empathize with your situation in this way.

Remember to reciprocate

A support system isn’t something you should only develop for your own benefit. It should include balanced relationships where, in addition to receiving support, you also provide support to your loved ones when you’re able to do so.