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close this bookMental Health Services in Disasters: Manual for Humanitarian Workers (PAHO; 2000; 92 pages) [ES]
View the documentPreface
View the documentObjectives
View the documentIntroduction
open this folder and view contentsChapter 1: Historical Overview and Mental Health Role
close this folderChapter 2: Basic Mental Health Content
View the documentStress/Stressor Response
View the documentCoping and Adaptation
View the documentLoss and Mourning
View the documentSocial Support Systems
View the documentCrisis Response and Resolution
View the documentThe Bio-psycho-socio-cultural system*
open this folder and view contentsChapter 3: Developmental Stages of Survivor Behavior
open this folder and view contentsChapter 4: Post-disaster Intervention Programs
open this folder and view contentsChapter 5: Populations with Special Needs
View the documentMental Health Services in Disasters: Manual for Humanitarian Workers
 

Social Support Systems

Social network/support system The group of individuals who influence each other's lives by fulfilling specific human needs. For the individual, the social network often provides respect, approval, and self-definition. The linkages in a social network of supports depend upon the type and quality of communication among members.

Emotional resources The ability to draw on past experience to deal with the stress of a problem and resolve it. Emotional resources enable a person to withstand the pressures of stress, anxiety, and depressive feelings and to have the confidence to set goals and take effective action. When these resources are not sufficient to withstand tension, the individual may succumb to stress and express nonadaptive behaviors.

Social resources The sum total of an individual's relationships, which form a network of social linkages or interrelationships with other individuals and groups and enable the individual to identify and enlist sources of emotional reassurance.

The social and emotional resources of a disaster survivor are related to past experiences of stress and crisis, loss and mourning, and coping and adaptation. The individual's emotional and social support network will greatly influence how effectively he/she overcomes a disaster experience. For this reason, the post-disaster worker must be keenly aware of the types of social and emotional resources available to survivors. This awareness allows the worker to help link the survivor to the social matrix and increase his/her ability to cope with disaster stress responses.

Traditional, stable, and structured social groups tend to promote strong bonds, and thus help protect their members against post-crisis pathological outcomes. However, this infrastructure may be impaired or disappear in major disasters. Workers who provide assistance post-disaster must be alert to the existence of social and emotional support systems and their use by disaster survivors.

Studies have shown that successful coping by disaster survivors is often directly related to the use of support systems. Immediately after a calamity, individuals who rely primarily on their linkages to relatives and close friends and less so upon neighbors and formal or volunteer organizations generally are able to deal effectively with the stresses of the catastrophe. Even years later, these disaster survivors have stronger ties to their social support system than before the catastrophe.

In dealing with a stressful event, an individual usually first calls upon a reserve of internal emotional mechanisms to resolve the problem at hand. When personal mobilization fails, the individual then uses the supports of a social network. This coping strategy, which relies first on personal and then on social resources, is the generalized pattern for most individuals.

However, people who are overwhelmed with severe stress will often tend to rely first on social resources. If they fail, they employ their own emotional resources, limited as they may be under the circumstances; as a result, they may withdraw, express helplessness, and isolate themselves.

Clearly, the quality of one's social network and the sociocultural context of the individual acting within it are significant determinants of coping behavior. The social network may be a major force in maintaining certain forms of behavior or an important factor in determining the degree and direction of change. In either case, the network of relationships in the disaster setting may provide the support to change or not to change, and it may facilitate efforts to adapt or not to adapt, depending on the social and cultural values at work in the situation.

In times of stress, individuals may use both formal and informal support systems to help them manage their problems. Group affiliation as a means of developing one's social support network is necessary when individuals have been displaced, relocated, or have suffered severe isolation. This network provides the individual with information, advice, protection, and reinforcement of individuality and worth.

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