The Gift of Giving
In mental health, we encourage our patients to seek out family and friends so they have support during the tough times and people to celebrate with in the good times. Having people to help you is especially important when you encounter chronic health problems as changing health can significantly alter how you function during your day to day life. We know that these impairments and changes can lead to depression and hopelessness in many and may possibly lead to thoughts of suicide in the patients who struggle to adapt. Having family and friends surround the patient experiencing depression and hopelessness are vital to helping them recover. However, social support is not a one way street of receiving, but also includes acts of giving and we know that giving support is also important for mental health recovery. Even during physical or mental heal crises, many individuals find meaning, purpose, and joy in giving back to their loved ones. In this study, a sample of older adults with vision impairment reported they continued to contribute to their communities through volunteer activity and gave support to their families, friends, and neighbors despite experiencing impairments in their overall functioning. Interestingly, giving back to family, neighbors, and friends was related to a lower chance of reporting suicide ideation in this sample. This is a reminder to us that even when experiencing impairment in our everyday life, we can contribute to our communities, our neighbors, our friends, and our families, though how we contribute may look a little different. For those in mental health, this is also a good reminder that a simple intervention of helping the patient see how they give support to others can help alleviate suffering. As Charles Dickens wrote, “No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another.”
Smith, M., Cui, R., Odom, J. V., Leys, M. J., & Fiske, A. (2019). Giving support and suicidal ideation in older adults with vision-related diagnoses. Clinical Gerontologist, 1-7.