​As the saying goes, 'No man is an island' - everyone needs companionship and a shoulder to lean on. It is important to surround ourselves with family and friends for support and comfort in both times of joy and distress. Studies have shown that having supportive relationships is a strong protective factor against mental illnesses and helps to increase our mental well-being.

What does it mean to have a supportive network of family and friends?

Having a supportive network of family and friends does not mean that one should seek to make as many friends as possible for the sake of doing so. Instead, one should strive to focus on the several important relationships with a handful of people in their social circle and strengthen these relationships.

It is about building and maintaining a network of people that you can trust and fall back on in times of difficulty.

Why is it important to have a supportive network of family and friends?

After our basic physiological (air, water etc) and safety needs (safe neighbourhood, job security etc) are met, the next stage is to fulfil our social needs. We need to feel a sense of belonging to a larger social group and feel socially connected to our family and friends.

Furthermore, we need people to turn to for advice and encouragement whenever we face difficult times.

It is not enough to just have one person in your support network as you may over-rely and exhaust that person. It can also be devastating if the only one person that you have been relying on is unable to be with you. Therefore, it is advisable to have a number of strong relationships in your social circle.

Furthermore, different people bring out different aspects of our personalities and fulfil different roles in our lives. For example, an extroverted friend may bring out the party animal in you whenever you are in the mood to have fun and celebrate, whereas, another friend who is quiet and loyal can be a good listener when you need to talk about your problems. Different people can also help us to see the same problem in different ways. This gives us a more complete picture of the situation.

Build this network!

Keep in touch with friends and loved ones on a regular basis. Make an effort to catch up over a cup of coffee or even a simple phone call to ask them about how they are getting on. They will be able to feel your concern and sincerity from the time you spend with them. Read more about how you can zest up your family life and to make new friends and maintain good relationships.

Show appreciation for your loved ones from time to time to remind them of how important they are to you. Very often, a simple 'How are you?' or 'I'm glad that you are in my life' note shows that you care and value them.

By putting in the time and effort to maintain your relationships, you will enjoy the positive returns from the strong connections you have with the people in your life.

Pick up a new hobby and get to know like-minded people who enjoy doing the same activities. Join an interest club or participate in community activities. Share your experiences with people you meet- this may be the start of new and fulfilling friendships.

Having a supportive network of family and friends can also help us to be positive​ when we go about our daily life.

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