If you’re struggling with your mental health, you’re not alone. According to the World Health Organization, over one billion people are experiencing mental health conditions. Further, the CDC reports that 50% of all people in the US will experience mental health symptoms in their lifetime.
There are many reasons for these struggles, and we do need to know the root causes so we can put the right intervention in place. But it’s also important to know that we have the power to impact our own mental health.
Your everyday actions can impact how you feel. If you’re struggling with a physical health condition like diabetes, you can choose to eat foods that impact your blood sugar. That is a way in which you have the power to control the outcome. Mental health is the same way. When you incorporate positive activities into your daily practice, you have the power to improve your mental health.
There is definitely a space for formal mental health treatment through medicine or therapy. But according to research from Harvard University, an estimated 80% of all mental health challenges can be met outside of the clinical care setting. With an intentional focus on our everyday actions, the majority of us can manage our own mental health needs.
As a Doctor of Public Health and a licensed mental health counselor, I focus my efforts on the prevention of diagnosable mental health conditions. My goal is to arm everyday people with the tools to improve their own mental health and the mental health of those in their circle. To that end, my area of expertise focuses on what I call the “Social Influences of Mental Health.”
The Social Influences of Mental Health are based on science, and there is extensive research that demonstrates how each influence impacts our level of happiness. Further, when we learn how to intentionally incorporate specific interventions into our lives in meaningful and productive ways, our mental health improves.
So, what are the five social influences, and how can we best use them to meet our mental health needs?
The 5 Social Influences of Mental Health
Social Connections: Research out of Berkeley demonstrates that socially connected people experience a sense of belonging to a group and feel close to other people. Being socially connected is the experience of feeling close and connected to others. It involves feeling loved, cared for, and valued, and it forms the basis of our interpersonal relationships.
Social Support: The help, advice, and comfort that we receive from those with whom we have stable, positive relationships defines social support. It includes access to social networks comprised of emotional, tangible, informational, and companionship support. Research demonstrates that when you have 3-5 strong supportive ties, you have better mental health.
Social Capital: Social capital is the structure of networks and collective resources within a community that individuals within that community can draw upon for benefit. Social capital refers to the relationships among people who live and work in a particular society, enabling that society to function effectively.
Social Media: There are demonstrated connections between social media and mental health. Let’s be clear: There are both positive and negative aspects of social media, and it’s a communication tool that is here to stay.
Social Inclusion: Social inclusion is when all groups of people have the same rights, opportunities, access to resources, and benefits. Focusing efforts to understand, advocate for, and commit to creating an equitable society improves both individual and, ultimately, collective mental health.
By understanding how each of these social aspects impacts your mental health, you can begin to see the path forward. It’s important to take an audit of your life to understand your current situation (your baseline) and then identify what changes need to be made in order to benefit fully from each of the influences. Take an honest look at each influence, and ask yourself how satisfied you are in this space.
How Can I Make the Social Influences of Mental Health Work for Me?
In order to experience the benefit of each of the above-mentioned Social Influences of Mental Health, try to incorporate into your life the following science-based contributing factors to successful connection and the promotion of mental health and well-being.
Intentionality: The energy and thought it takes to create connection.
Proximity: The physical and psychological nearness to others that tends to increase interpersonal liking.
Connectivity: The energy that exists between people when they spend time together and share experiences.
Commonality: The shared interests and purpose with others that create a natural connection.
Vulnerability: The uncertainty, risk, transparency, and emotional exposure required for making authentic connections.
Dependability: The support of people being “there for you” when truly needed.
Reciprocity: The practice of exchanging things with others for mutual benefit. We feel connected to others when they will help us as well as allow us to help them in times of need.
Flexibility: Becoming flexible in our expectations for when and how others should act.
Positivity: Valuing an existing relationship, feeling cared for, and knowing you are accepted.
The Social Influences of Mental Health will benefit us most if we are disciplined and put in the time and effort. When identifying your social influence needs, it’s important to also identify your strengths and preferences. The magic happens when you use those strengths and preferences to meet your own needs; this way, the intervention will be something that you prefer to do.
Focusing on the social influences of mental health is a simple, tangible activity that we can all use every day. If you’re currently struggling with your mental health, you’re already spending time in your head. Use that time to focus your energies on something positive for yourself. Spend time figuring out how to become more socially connected, lean in on your support system, get engaged in your community, use social media in a way that benefits your mental health, or learn about acts of service that will benefit others. We all have the power to control our own mental health; now you have the tools.