What is a Support System?
The different kinds of positive relationships we talked about in the last section also come together to form something called a “SUPPORT SYSTEM”.
A support system is a network of people and resources in our life, which can include friends, family, mentors, professionals, and others, who can provide us with emotional and practical support!
Who Makes up a Support System?
Support systems are made up of the people who are there for us, and can help us through tough times by offering comfort, advice, or connection to resources and other help.
Level 1: Me...? Yes, YOU!
This might sound funny, but indeed it’s true – YOU are actually a big part of your own support network.
While others can be there to help work through problems or just give comfort, you are the #1 expert on YOU! You know yourself best, you know best what you’re going through, what you might need, and you can draw on your past experiences, your strengths, coping skills, and what you’ve absorbed from the way you’ve seen others face tough challenges, etc.,
Level 1: Me...? Yes, YOU!
Did you know? Studies have actually shown that positive self-talk is SUPER powerful! And what’s more, when giving yourself a little positive pep talk, it’s actually been found to be even more effective if you talk to yourself in the 3rd person, just like you would to a close friend or loved one!
So when you’re feeling down, discouraged or defeated, it’s important to remind yourself once and a while: “you are STRONG, you are RESILIENT, and YOU CAN DO THIS!” It may feel awkward or silly at first, but trust us, it works, AND you deserve it! 😉
Level 2: A little help from our friends...!
We like to call this level of support your “informal supports” because it may not be their job to help you, like it is for a mental health professional, but positive peers, our friends and our family members can provide some pretty important care and support throughout our lives!
Despite highlighting individual strengths, it’s also worth a reminder that we are social animals after all, and as a result, we need a few people close to us that we can turn to when the going gets tough. Peers, friends and family members can often be our first points of contact because they are the ones we spend most of our time with. They may not have all the answers, but sometimes we need a nudge, or an ear to listen, or another mind to brainstorm with, or an example to learn from, or just a friendly face and fun distraction – those closest to us can often offer these kinds of support.
Level 2: A little help from our friends...!
Remember: As hard as it can be to do, reaching out for help is NOT a sign of weakness, it is a sign of strength and the more we intentionally talk about mental health and make it normalized within our peer groups and families, the better all of our support systems will become!
Level 3: We all need community.
This level is what we like to call “formal supports” because it includes professionals like: teachers, guidance counselors, coaches, doctors, mental health care providers (e.g., therapists, psychiatrists, social workers), doctors, youth counselors, crisis lines, and many others!
At times, you or your close circle might not have the knowledge and resources needed to get through everything. When more complex or tougher situations come up, you might have some questions that are hard to answer and need some extra help.
Level 3: We all need community.
There are a variety of experts and professionals out there to help you through those specific challenges – and no problem is to big or too small to reach out! These more formal supports exist in schools, community centers/organizations, online, over the phone, etc., A good first step is connecting with a trusted adult and asking them for help to get connected.
Remember: Not everyone in your support system will be there for you at every moment of every day, so it’s important to try to identify multiple people and resources who you can go to if you need support.
Identifying Positive Supports
Think about who you could go to when you are feeling stressed or having a tough day/week/month…
If you don’t already have a trusted adult, a friend/peer, or a mentor that comes to mind, that is okay!
Here’s the truth: Although we wish it weren’t this way, we have to recognize that opening up and getting support for one’s mental health just seems more challenging than when dealing with physical health. This means that we usually need a higher level of trust before we generally feel comfortable sharing what we’re going through mentally and emotionally.
This also means that it can sometimes take some extra time and effort to intentionally find people and resources that you feel comfortable with. Keep scrolling to learn some ways to identify those positive people and resources you CAN start building trust and connections with.
When trying to identify supportive people or just people you want to get to know better, reflect on the following question: what makes someone good to open up to?
- Have they generally been trustworthy with other things?
- Or have they gossiped about people and don’t seem to respect privacy?
- Has the person been generally kind and caring towards you or others?
- Or have they ever said anything stigmatizing or judgmental about someone’s mental health?
- Is it a teacher or coach you’ve known for a few years?
- Or is it a random stranger you met online who just seems “really cool”…?
- Are they willing to hear others out, do they ask questions or seem interested in other people?
- Or do you find they only seem interested in themselves or aren’t a very good listener?
How do you build positive relationships?
Now that we’ve looked at how to identify potentially positive or supportive people who could be part of our support system, let’s look at what YOU can do to build your network and feel more connected!
Making real friends and having authentic relationships starts with being real with yourself! So if you’re looking to get to know others and make some social connections, it helps to first look at and get to know YOU better.
Ask yourself questions like:
- What are my interests and hobbies?
- What are my values? Like what do I REALLY care about or want to do in this world?
- Are there clubs at school or groups in my community that match some of the things I like?
- What do I want in a friend? (e.g., just want someone to hang out, someone I can talk with, someone to do a specific activity with, etc.,)
- What can I offer AS a friend? (e.g., am I kind, funny, caring, a good listener? No one’s good at everything, but any 1 positive is a great start!)
Most Importantly: Don't Give Up!
It can be REALLY hard to see the positives in ourselves, so take this slow – start by just thinking about what you would want in a friend and then think about how you could give that to someone else.
Sometimes making friends or being a good friend can seem really complicated and difficult, but it’s important to remember that being social, being a supportive, positive friend or peer to others is a skill like any other and CAN be learned with effort, time and practice 🙂
It's Not 1-Size-Fits-All!
Sometimes we feel like we should be able to have the 1 awesome, amazing relationship (whether it’s a friend, a family member, or an extra special someone) to make us feel happy, connected and fulfilled all the time. But, the truth is that we are all unique, have different needs, strengths and weaknesses, and that all different kinds of relationships are valid! So remember…
Tip #1: Variety is a Good Thing!
Try to interact with as many different kinds of people as possible! You might enjoy being friends with someone you don’t expect to have much in common with! Keep an open mind and be inclusive as possible.
Tip #2: Embrace "new" and "different"!
If you notice someone sitting alone at lunch, don’t be afraid to invite them to sit with you, or ask if you can join them – you never know what awesome connections you might make if you never try!
Tip #3: Practice Being a Good Human!
Be nice on purpose! Go out of your way to get to know new people by asking them about their interests! Offer to help others when you can not because you’ll get anything in return, but just because! Learn about other groups, needs, and issues that may be different than your own and learn more about what you can do to be a good ally!
Tip #4: Get Active!
We know it’s not always easy to just pick up a conversation with a new person out of the blue – it can range from awkward to downright anxiety-provoking. So instead of focusing on the goal, just focus on the “doing”! Doing things together can be a great way to start an awesome relationship – and whether it’s rock climbing, or a board game, or videos games, or studying – doing specific activities together can also help lower the pressure and make awesome connections with people who you may otherwise have never talked to!
Social Connection Opportunities
What are some concrete things that we can actually DO to connect with others and put these support system skills into practice?
Check out a few ideas below…
Visit your school’s website, talk to your guidance counselor or teachers, or ask other students to learn about the opportunities to get involved at your school. Many schools have:
- Mentoring programs (e.g., like Link Crew)
- Leadership groups or student committees
- School clubs (for interest or for a cause)
- Sports teams and other extracurricular activities
Volunteering or Work:
If you have a job (whether part-time or full-time) or volunteer with a group or organization, these can often be a great opportunities to meet new people and build connections:
- Visit your own local Youth Advisory/Action Committees!
One great way to get connected with peers in your area is to sign up for recreational programs! They can be sports-based, arts-based or even just spaces for youth to hang-out! Check out local recreational programming around Ottawa:
- The B&GC
- The City of Ottawa
- Community Health & Resource Centres (check THIS LIST to find out which one is in your area)
Mental Health Supports
Sometimes we need a bit of extra support and that’s okay too – you can check out some of the following places to access resources, often offered in groups:
- YouthNet Programs (Join our programs waitlist HERE)
- Youth Services Bureau (YSB) programs
- Other youth centres