When you or someone you love receives a difficult health diagnosis often the only thing we want to do is to close ourselves off from the world. But the importance of accepting outside support cannot be underestimated. Furthermore support comes in many forms and from many different places, with the digital world and social media bringing support ever closer to home. We take a closer look.
When confronted with a health problem your life becomes a whirlwind of doctors, hospitals and appointments. It is a confusing time for anyone. You are trying to figure out the right way forward and it becomes you and your family against the world. There’s little time for anyone else, let alone cultivating friendships and accepting support. Many people respond to health problems by withdrawing from their old lives because they don’t wish to talk about the many changes that are happening, particularly if there are no obvious solutions. This isolation can, in turn, lead to or compound depression and anxiety.
Support improves health and benefits giver too
Yet studies have shown time and time again that the presence of a support network is vital when people are navigating tricky times in their lives (The American Psychological Association’s 2015 Stress in America survey found the average stress level for those with emotional support was 5.0 out of 10, compared to 6.3 for those without such support.) Not only can this support network offer practical help when needed – perhaps a friend might offer a lift to a hospital appointment or pick up some groceries – but emotional help also. Just knowing that there is a community of people out there sympathetic to your struggles can provide an emotional lift and a reason for moving forward. The feeling of “I am not alone!” can cure many ills.
And if there was any further evidence required that support was a positive thing, it seems giving support not only benefits the recipient but the giver of that support also. University of Pittsburgh psychological scientists Tristen K. Inagaki and Edward Orehek have pointed to a growing body of evidence that providing support can be beneficial for the support-giver, leading to reduced stress, increased happiness and increased sense of social connectedness. Their 2017 study in fact identified two factors which – when present – were particularly effective: when providing support is perceived as a choice and when support is perceived to be effective.
Different support from different places
Can we get all the support we need from one place? Perhaps in an ideal world but realistically not, according to sociologist James Michigan who maintains you get certain types of support from certain types of people. According to Michigan, a relationship needs to provide us with one of the following:
- Emotional Support – You need to be assured that you have people in your corner. These people help nurture you and keep you moving forward. It involves love, trust, care, intimacy, affection and encouragement.
- Tangible Support – Are people you can call on for help on things like financial assistance, babysitting the kids so you can watch a movie, or going with you to the dentist or doctor.
- Appraisal Support – The people who love you enough to give you constructive and honest feedback about yourself. This type of support cannot be expected from mere acquaintances. It can only come from people who know you very well.
- Informational Support – These are professional acquaintances such as lawyers, doctors, accountants, clergy and more. They can share their expertise with you when you need it and help you solve problems.
- Companionship Support – Activity friends who makes us feel socially accepted. They could be your reading group or any other group of people you interact with socially.
Conclusion: be open to receiving support from a range of different people – perhaps even from those you wouldn’t normally expect. You might be surprised!
Support in digital form
The digital world has opened up many new support possibilities. Support no longer needs to live next door or in the next street. Support can be found easily in different interest groups online or via social media. The internet is a huge place and, once you find that group of people online who can offer advice on a particular situation, you really know you’re not alone!
Connecting with people online also has the added advantage that these people might live abroad. Our international neighbours offer fresh perspective – their thoughts challenge our thinking in ways we never thought possible. Cultural differences might encourage us to consider new approaches and something we never thought possible could be possible!
MED-EL is one organisation which recognises the value of giving and receiving support for those with hearing difficulties and as such maintains the peer-to-peer network HearPeers. HearPeers is an international project which connects hearing implant users (so-called “HearPeer mentors”) with potential hearing implant candidates. Users benefit from offering their advice to potential users and the chance to give something back, and candidates benefit from learning about their experiences. Often the decision whether to get a hearing implant is a difficult one to make and peer-to-peer contact helps to simplify this decision. Community members share information via the HearPeers online forum.