Building a support network

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Mary Lalonde O.T. Reg. (Ont.)

Occupational Therapist

Tri-County Mental Health Services

Anyone, any time, can feel distressed about a personal or work problem—and when under stress, we tend to withdraw from others and sometimes this can be helpful, but most times it is not. It is much easier for a mental illness to take over if we are isolated and out of touch with others. When we have too many tasks to do and feel overwhelmed, we also have a tendency to not ask for help and the stress and tension of the load heightens. But, when we ask for help, the load is divided, lighter and often more enjoyable and the sense of being overwhelmed and stressed is greatly reduced.

Having connections with friends, family, and other sources (clubs, organizations, peers, professional or trade organizations, common interests groups, volunteering, etc.) can help prevent recurrences of mental health issues and provide support and reassurance. A good support network helps to ground us emotionally and to find solutions for challenges in our lives. Some people in our network are good for doing things with distractions, others provide physical and financial assistance, some provide political/legal assistance, some provide information, others are good for listening and understanding and still other people may have had experience managing a similar situation or have a fresh view of the situation. We can use help lines such as a Crisis Line (1-866-996-0991), help desks for products, our members of parliament and many others.

Some difficulties, however, are best dealt with by a professional. Professional resources can help us learn a range of coping mechanisms, learn new communication habits, teach us about an illness and relapse prevention techniques as well as explore our options for increased informal and community supports.

It is helpful to brainstorm and write a list of all the people and resources we have for support—everything from our doctor, friends, and acquaintances, to listing people to have fun with, union representatives, employers, coworkers, therapists—and add what role each person plays in providing support physically, spiritually, emotionally or mentally.

If someone is going to help us, we need to be sure that they have the resources we need. These resources might be experience, connections, or good judgment, as well as the resources of time, money and willingness to help. Once we determine the help we need, asking is the next step. It is helpful to write out what we want to say and to practice saying it, then move forward and ask.

It is important for our mental health to build strong support networks on both formal and informal levels. We need to keep talking to people and building our relationships with them. There are very good, practical reasons for having fun with people we like! It is very good for our mental health and overall well-being.

For more information or to receive the French version of this article, or to seek professional advice, please call 613-932-9940 or 1-800-465-8061. Free, confidential services are available in French and English to residents of Dundas, Stormont and Glengarry through their offices in Winchester, Cornwall and Alexandria.

Keeping Health in Mind is a monthly newspaper column made possible with the help of Seaway News and the clinical staff of Tri-County Mental Health Services, a community program of the Cornwall Community Hospital/Hôpital Communautaire de Cornwall.

Organizations: Tri-County Mental Health Services, Seaway News, Cornwall Community Hospital/Hôpital Communautaire de Cornwall

Geographic location: Dundas, Winchester, Alexandria

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