The Benefit of Support Groups
By: Terra Orgeron
Whether you are someone with mental health issues, or a person who loves someone with a mental illness, joining a support group can be beneficial in many ways.
Not long after my family member was diagnosed with a mental illness, I began searching for support. I spent a lot of time researching the disorder to learn as much as possible about what my loved one was going through and how I could support them, but I felt alone. No one I knew personally had any experience with what we were dealing with at home and I did not feel comfortable talking to them.
I began my search on Facebook (FB) and it did not take long to find what I was looking for. I have been a member of an amazing group for almost a year now and I will say that it is the least judgmental FB group that I have ever come across. I can always count on 100% support from the other members, no matter what I am going through at the moment. I truly believe this is because I am connecting with people who are going through the same things as I am. It makes such a difference.
Along with the FB group, I reached out to my local NAMI chapter and joined a program that was offered in my area for family members. I also joined if-me.org and built a personal support network by adding trusted friends and family members as Allies. I use it to share Moments, and to receive encouragement and comfort from my Allies.
Feeling isolated or lonely can be a vicious cycle when dealing with mental illness. Those with mental health conditions, may isolate themselves because of their condition, and that isolation can, in turn, have a negative impact on mental health. Loneliness can be detrimental to self-esteem and cause the “Bully in our Brain” to become stronger. Finding a connection with others can help overcome some of these struggles.
Benefits of support groups
According to the Mayo Clinic, regardless of format, in a support group, you’ll find people with problems similar to yours. Members of a support group usually share their personal experiences and offer one another emotional comfort and moral support. They may also offer practical advice and tips to help you cope with your situation.
Benefits of participating in support groups may include:
- Feeling less lonely, isolated or judged
- Gaining a sense of empowerment and control
- Improving your coping skills and sense of adjustment
- Talking openly and honestly about your feelings
- Reducing distress, depression, anxiety or fatigue
- Developing a clearer understanding of what to expect with your situation
- Getting practical advice or information about treatment options
- Comparing notes about resources, such as doctors and alternative options
Finding a support group
Just like finding a therapist, it may take some trial and error when searching for a compatible support group. There are a variety of groups available, based on your needs. Begin your search by:
- Getting recommendations from your doctor, therapist, or trusted friends.
- Searching professional mental health organizations.
- Searching online for peer support groups (Facebook, Yahoo Groups, etc.)
- Checking with local therapy centers, many have group sessions available.
Remember, that being a member of a support group is about connecting with others and sharing sensitive topics. It is okay to take things slowly at first and focus on becoming comfortable. Confidentiality is extremely important and should be respected at all times.
Knowing that we are not alone in our struggles can have a positive effect on our well-being and mental health. It takes courage to open up and share when we feel vulnerable, but the benefits are numerous. You are not alone and neither am I.
- Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance
- Mental Health America
- International resources (This page stopped being updated at the end of 2016, but is still an excellent international resource)