Finding Support Through Community by Gwendolyn Tsuji, MA, LCPC
Finding a sense of community heavily influences and contributes to the care and maintenance of our mental health. We are human, and humans are social beings. Our human bodies and brains crave connection, physical and emotional attachment, and thrive when we contribute and move in the same direction with whom we are attached. Supportive community and a sense of togetherness nurture and satiate our need for connection.
What is a supportive community?
A supportive community is composed of people with whom we are connected. These people can be anyone; blood relatives, chosen family, peers, colleagues, friends, etc. The list goes on and transcends place and time. Close relationships can be found in individuals you have known your whole life, or just for several months. Connection can be established through shared interests, values, and beliefs. The characteristics that facilitate a supportive community include trust, care, and support through struggle and celebration.
How does our community provide us with support?
More valuable than finding a supportive community can be how we use the support that community provides. Support can look different based on who our supportive community is composed of, resources that we have access to, and what kind of support we are receptive to. Support we provide and receive often fall in the following four categories: emotional, instrumental, informational, and appraisal.
Emotional support consists of expressions of empathy, care, love, and trust. Instrumental support is the act of tangible aid and service. Informational support includes sharing advice, suggestions, and information. Appraisal support involves sharing information, usually personal to the individual receiving it, that is useful to allow them to engage in self-evaluation.
Let’s take a look at the following example to apply the four forms of support: You are on a hike with some family and friends, and struggling to carry an immensely heavy backpack. The backpack is a metaphor for family/friend issues, school, work, medical concerns, emotional pain from trauma, etc., and the hike is a metaphor for life 😉
- Emotional: Your friends and family may stay close with you, walk at your pace, and provide words of encouragement and a listening ear. “I know this is hard, and I believe in your strength.”
- Instrumental: Your family and friends stop you, open up that heavy backpack, and distribute some weight into the ones they carry. Maybe to give you some extra rest, someone else takes a turn with the backpack.
- Informational: A friend or family member gives you guidance about the terrain of the hike and your posture so that you can make it safely through the hike. They may also suggest to you that you ask the others to carry some of the weight of the backpack.
- Appraisal: Your close family and friends remind you of all of the qualities that equip you to get through the struggles on the hike, which encourages you to accurately assess the current situation and your capability.
Who is a part of your supportive community?
Which forms of support are you receptive to, and which forms of support does your community provide?
What is your hike, and what do you carry in your backpack?
Health Behavior and Health Education. Health Behavior and Health Education | Part Three, Chapter Nine: Key Constructs Social Support. (n.d.). Retrieved June 20, 2022, from https://www.med.upenn.edu/hbhe4/part3-ch9-key-constructs-social-support.shtml
Schaefer, S. M., Morozink Boylan, J., van Reekum, C. M., Lapate, R. C., Norris, C. J., Ryff, C. D., & Davidson, R. J. (2013). Purpose in life predicts better emotional recovery from negative stimuli. PloS one, 8(11), e80329.