The Role of Social Networks and Support in Abnormal Functioning

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  • 0:05 Social Support
  • 1:18 Abnormality & Social Support
  • 2:50 Why Does Social Support Help?
  • 4:40 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

Everybody needs a friend sometimes. In this lesson, we'll look at the impact of social support on people who are suffering from mental illness. We'll also examine two major hypotheses as to why social support helps people with psychological issues.

Social Support

Mara is going through a difficult time. She recently lost her job, broke up with her boyfriend, and her grandmother passed away. Needless to say, she's feeling very stressed out! In addition, she's been feeling very depressed. She's lost interest in the things that she normally likes, and she finds it very hard to get out of bed most days. Nell also has some problems. She's getting ready to graduate, and she doesn't have a job yet. She's been suffering from panic attacks, and anxiety seems to be a constant companion for her.

Both Nell and Mara are experiencing abnormal emotions. Abnormal psychology is the study of abnormal thoughts, behaviors, and feelings. Both depression and anxiety fall under the umbrella of abnormal psychology, as do many other types of psychological issues. So, how can Nell and Mara get through their tough times? One thing that helps people deal with psychological issues is social support. Social support is when people in your life help you deal with problems. For many people, social support is directly tied to their social network of friends and family.

Abnormality and Social Support

As you might imagine, people with well-developed social networks and a high level of social support generally tend to be happier and healthier. Some studies have shown that social support can help people deal with stressful situations, like chronic illness. In addition, people with a high level of social support have been shown to have lower levels of depression and anxiety. So, if Nell and Mara can turn to the people in their lives for support, they are more likely to be able to deal with their anxiety and depression, and they are less likely to have high levels of depression and anxiety.

But, it's not just depression and anxiety. Even more serious mental illness, like post-traumatic stress disorder, panic disorder, bipolar disorder, and eating disorders, are all mitigated to an extent by social support. Of course, social support cannot completely get rid of all psychological problems, but it does help patients deal with issues related to their psychological disorders.

A good example of this is schizophrenia. Patients with schizophrenia suffer from hallucinations, delusions, and other severe symptoms of psychosis. Because there are neurological issues involved in schizophrenia, no amount of social support will cure the disease. However, there have been many studies showing that patients with low social support show more acute symptoms than those who have high social support. So, even though it can't cure mental illness, social support helps make psychological disorders less acute.

Why Does Social Support Help?

Why does social support help with stress, anxiety, and other psychological issues? There are two basic theories on how social support works: the buffering hypothesis and the direct effects hypothesis.

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