What are support groups?
A support group is a group of people with similar experiences that support one another. One of the major benefits of joining a support group is being among people who understand what it feels like to experience what you are experiencing. Members of your support group can become close friends, or even like family, when you’re in need of support.
Support groups are not the same as therapy groups. In a therapy group, the group is managed by a licensed therapist that helps to guide discussion and progress. A support group is often run by a group facilitator that may or may not be trained as a mental health professional. Because support groups can be started by anyone, the dynamics of each group is unique to that group. This means if you find a group that doesn’t quite “click” with you, there may be a better one out there.
How does a support group benefit me?
Firstly, most support groups are free. They act as a complementary component to medical treatment (read: not a replacement). Participating in support groups also helps to combat feelings of isolation or judgement, increases feelings of empowerment and control, improves coping skills, reduces symptoms of illness (such as depression or anxiety), increases education about your experience, increases practical advice from people who have “been there, done that”, and allows the opportunity to compare local resources.
Basically, support groups have been proven to be extremely beneficial. They should always be strongly considered as a complement to any treatment you are receiving. As an added bonus, support groups exist for a variety of different experiences: loss survivors, suicide attempt survivors, those struggling with depression, family members, caregivers, cancer fighters, bullying – the list goes on and on.
How do I find a good support group?
At the top of this page are four links to databases for support groups. Start by getting the contact information for the group facilitator and then reaching out for more information.
As mentioned earlier, each support group is unique. You may not like the first one you go to. If that’s the case, try another one. There may be a group out there that perfectly matches your needs, but you won’t know if you don’t go out and try them.
What are some characteristics of a good support group?
A good support group will have these qualities:
- A facilitator that is engaged and committed to the group
- Members that are welcoming and supportive
- A safe environment to share feelings and experiences
- Respect of different opinions, experiences, and walks of life
- Prompt responses when inquiring about group
- Up-to-date and reliable information
- A clearly stated confidentiality policy
How do I make the most of my support group?
Support groups are intimidating to join. Being in a group of strangers can raise anxiety levels, and the thought of sharing your personal struggles with people you’ve never met before can be daunting.
When you’ve found a group you feel comfortable in, make it a point to meet as often as possible. Try not to skip any sessions – the more you go, the more rapport you will build with your fellow members, and the more comfortable you will become.
Allow yourself to be held accountable by your group. If your group offers a challenge such as “make a list of 5 things to distract yourself from negative thoughts” – do it! Participate in group activities and allow yourself to open up in the safe space provided.
Lastly, don’t be afraid to share your opinions. If you really love your group but feel that things are not being run correctly, bring it up with the facilitator. A support group “belongs” to the members just as much as it belongs to the facilitator.