The importance of social support – it’s not just psychological

Posted on: 25th October 2016

Bianca Karpf is Partnerships and Programmes Manager at Body & Soul. Here she looks back at the three months from July to September and talks about some of the themes that emerged in our work over the period, including the importance of social support.

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We’ve had a busy third quarter at Body & Soul: we used the Rio 2016 Olympics and Paralympics as inspiration for themed service evenings designed to build confidence through inclusive sporting activities; a team of volunteers and staff ran the British 10K through Central London and raised an impressive £6,000 in the process; and Body & Soul was represented at the International AIDS Conference in Durban, South Africa by one of our trustees, who was awarded a scholarship to attend.

This is on top of all our regular services, which continued to grow. For example, the casework team saw a rise in the number of hours spent on cases, with 728 hours of casework delivered in the quarter. Here is a snapshot of some of the other headline figures:

q3-2016-infographic

Summer can be a difficult time for some of our members, as parents negotiate some of the challenges presented by the holidays and children adapt to a different rhythm. In many cases the structure of the school day provides a social outlet for pupils and parents alike. During the summer holidays parents often struggle to identify affordable options for daytime clubs or outings, which can lead to a tendency to remain at home. Furthermore parents sometimes do not feel able to have their children’s friends over to visit because of a lack of space, embarrassment at their living conditions or worry about the cost implications of providing drinks and snacks. This creates a cycle of increasing isolation.

This theme of isolation is central to much of what we do at Body & Soul. Social support and a strong social network are critical to the health outcomes of people living with HIV. There is now a significant body of evidence pointing to a link between social support and changes in cardiovascular, neuroendocrine and immune function, which in turn affect health outcomes. This supports the idea that the marginalisation of people living with HIV has ramifications beyond the emotional and psychological.

Body & Soul has an important part to play in providing a space where members can come together in a warm and positive environment and develop informal networks of support. These support systems take different forms and emerge in the context of fragile family structures, difficulties entering employment and an increasingly hostile rental sector. We see members building up networks of support to help each other: for example, Mary provided a space on her sofa to Gloria, who fled domestic violence; and Kudzai and Camilla decided to meet for a walk together every weekend when they were both dispersed to Wolverhampton by the Home Office.

The existence of our community centre which engages children in activities specifically designed to improve their social networks encourages both parents and children to get out of the house over the summer holidays. This mitigates the feelings of loneliness and isolation they may be experiencing. As one young member told us: “I can tell other people in BaSe [group for 10-12 year olds] how I feel and I can ask if I don’t understand about HIV. I have new friends who have HIV too and I can talk to them and ask questions.”

As we head towards the winter months, we will continue to support our members as they work to strengthen their social networks and form new health-promoting bonds of solidarity.

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Body & Soul is committed to an evidence-based approach to service provision. We regularly evaluate our services to ensure we are catering to the needs of our members and using the funding we receive in the most effective way possible.

 

More information on the link between social support, physiological function and health outcomes can be found in this academic article.

 

[Note: some members’ names may be changed.]



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