Connection with Social Supports
To help establish brief or ongoing contacts with primary support persons and other sources of support, including family members, friends, and community helping resources.
Social support is related to emotional well-being and recovery following disaster and terrorism. People who are well connected to others are more likely to engage in supportive activities (both receiving and giving support) that assist with disaster recovery. Social support can come in many forms. These include:
- Emotional Support: hugs, a listening ear, understanding, love, acceptance
- Social Connection: feeling like you fit in and have things in common with other people, having people to share activities
- Feeling Needed: feeling that you are important to others, that you are valued, useful and productive, and that people appreciate you
- Reassurance of Self-Worth: having people help you have confidence in yourself and your abilities, that you can handle the challenges you face
- Reliable Support: having people reassure you that they will be there for you in case you need them, that you have people you can rely on to help you
- Advice and Information: having people show you how to do something or give you information or good advice, having people help you understand that your way of reacting to what has happened is common, having good examples to learn from about how to cope in positive ways with what is happening
- Physical Assistance: having people help you perform tasks, like carrying things, fixing up your house or room, and helping you do paperwork
- Material Assistance: having people give you things, like food, clothing, shelter, medicine, building materials, or money
Fostering connections as soon as possible and assisting survivors in developing and maintaining social connections is critical to recovery. Benefits of social connectedness include:
- Increased opportunities for knowledge essential to disaster recovery
- Opportunities for a range of social support activities, including:
- Practical problem-solving
- Emotional understanding and acceptance
- Sharing of experiences and concerns
- Clarifying reactions
- Sharing information about coping
Enhance Access to Primary Support Persons (Family and Significant Others)
An immediate concern for most survivors is to contact those with whom they have a primary relationship (for example, spouse/partner, children, parents, other family members, close friends, neighbors, and clergy). Take practical steps to assist survivors to reach these individuals (in person, by phone, by e-mail, through web-based databases). Other sources of social support may include co-workers and hobby or club members (such as an afterschool club, bridge club, book club, Rotary, or VFW). Survivors who belong to religious organizations may have access to a valuable supportive network that can help facilitate recovery.
Encourage Use of Immediately Available Support Persons
If individuals are disconnected from their social support network, encourage them to make use of immediately available sources of social support (for example, yourself, other relief workers, other survivors), while being respectful of individual preferences. It can help to offer reading materials (for example, magazines, newspapers, fact sheets), and discuss the material with them. When people are in a group, ask if they have questions. When members of the group are from different neighborhoods or communities, facilitate introductions among members. Small group discussions can provide a starting point for further conversations and social connectedness. When working with the frail elderly, you may try to connect them with a younger adult or adolescent volunteer, if available, who can provide social contact and assistance with daily activities. If appropriate, you may offer them the opportunity to assist families by spending time with younger children (reading to them, sitting with them while they play, or playing games with them).
When working with youth, bring similar-age children together in a shared activity–as long as they know where their adult caregivers are. Provide art materials, coloring books, or building materials to help younger children engage in soothing, familiar activities. Older children and adolescents can lead younger children in activities. Children may have suggestions of songs to sing or classroom games that they have played at school. Several activities that can be done only with paper and pencil include:
- Folding “fortune tellers”
- Making paper balls and tossing them into an empty wastebasket
- Air hockey: wad up a piece of paper and have children try to blow it across the table into the other team’s goal (Bonus: can be used to practice deep breathing exercises).
- Group drawing: have children sit in a circle, the first child begins a drawing. After 10 seconds, that child passes the drawing to the child on their right. Continue until everyone has added to the drawing. Then show the group the final picture. Suggest that the children draw something positive (not pictures of the disaster), something that promotes a sense of protection and safety.
- Scribble game: pair up youth, one person makes a scribble on the paper, and their partner has to add to the scribble to turn it into something.
- Making a paper doll chain or circle chain in which the child writes the name of each person in their support system on a link. For adolescents, you can also ask them to identify the type of support (for example, emotional support, advice and information, material assistance, etc.) that they receive from each person.
Discuss Support-Seeking and Giving
If individuals are reluctant to seek support, there may be many reasons, including:
- Not knowing what they need (and perhaps feeling that they should know).
- Feeling embarrassed or weak because of needing help.
- Feeling guilty about receiving help when others are in greater need
- Not knowing where to turn for help.
- Worrying that they will be a burden or depress others.
- Fearing that they will get so upset that they will lose control.
- Doubting that support will be available or helpful
- Thinking, “No one can understand what I’m going through.”
- Having tried to get help and finding that help wasn’t there (feeling let down or betrayed).
- Fearing that the people they ask will be angry or make them feel guilty for needing help.
In helping survivors to appreciate the value of social support and to engage with others, you may need to address some of the above concerns.
For those who have become withdrawn or socially isolated, you can be of assistance by helping them to:
- Think about the type of support that would be most helpful.
- Think about whom they can approach for that type of support.
- Choose the right time and place to approach the person.
- Talk to the person and explain how he/she can be of help.
- Afterwards, thank the person for his/her time and help.
Let survivors know that, following a disaster, some people choose not to talk about their experiences, and that spending time with people one feels close to without talking can feel good. For example, your message might be:
When you’re able to leave the Assistance Center you may just want to be with the people you feel close to. You may find it helpful to talk about what each of you has been through. You can decide when and what to talk about. You don’t have to talk about everything that occurred, only what you choose to share with each person.
When something really upsetting like this happens, even if you don’t feel like talking, be sure to ask for what you need.
You are doing a great job letting grown-ups know what you need. It is important to keep letting people know how they can help you. The more help you get, the more you can make things better. Even grown-ups need help at a time like this.
For those who would like to provide support to others, you can help them to:
- Identify ways that they can be helpful to others (volunteer in the shelter or community, help children or older adults).
- Identify a person or persons that they can help.
- Find an uninterrupted time and place to talk or to help them.
- Show interest, attention, and care.
- Offer to talk or spend time together as many times as needed.
The focus should not be on discussing disaster-related experiences or loss, but rather on providing practical assistance and problem-solving current needs and concerns.
Special Considerations for Children and Adolescents
You can help children and adolescents problem-solve ways in which they can ask for, and give support to, others around them. Here are some suggestions:
- Talk with your parents/caregivers or other trusted adults about how you are feeling, so that they better understand how and when to help you.
- Do enjoyable activities with other children, including playing sports, games, board games, watching movies, and so forth.
- Spend time with your younger brothers or sisters. Help them to calm down, play with them, and keep them company.
- Help with cleaning, repairs, or other chores to support your family and community.
- Share things with others, including activities and toys.
In some cases, children and adolescents will not feel comfortable talking with others. Engaging them in social or physical activities or merely being present can be comforting. Parents and you can be supportive by going for a walk, throwing a ball, playing a game, thumbing through magazines together, or simply sitting together.
As a provider, you can model positive supportive responses, such as:
- “From what you’re saying, I can see how you would be . . .”
- “It sounds like you’re saying . . .”
- “It seems that you are . . .”
- “Tell me if I’m wrong … it sounds like you . . .”
- “Am I right when I say that you . . .”
- “No wonder you feel . . .”
- “It sounds really hard . . .”
- “It sounds like you’re being hard on yourself.”
- “It is such a tough thing to go through something like this.”
- “I’m really sorry this is such a tough time for you.”
- “We can talk more tomorrow if you’d like.”
Empowering comments and questions:
- “What have you done in the past to make yourself better when things got difficult?”
- “Are there any things that you think would help you to feel better?”
- “I have an information sheet with some ideas about how to deal with difficult situations. Maybe there is an idea or two here that might be helpful for you.”
- “People can be very different in what helps them to feel better. When things get difficult, for me, it has helped me to . . . Do you think something like that would work for you?”
If appropriate, distribute handouts, Connecting with Others: Seeking Social Support and Giving Social Support provided in Appendix E. These handouts are intended for adults and older adolescents.