Whether you are living with a mental health condition, or are a caretaker/loved one of someone who is ill, the stress and anxiety associated can be a lot to carry on your own.
Fortunately, joining a support group can provide valuable moral support and encouragement from people who have experienced similar challenges. Sharing your struggles and fears with a group can be therapeutic as you navigate an illness or help a family member through a health issue.
But how do you know what support group is best for you? What are you hoping to get out of a mental health support group?
Keep reading for the benefits of a support group and the tips and tools you should look for when finding the perfect group for your personal needs.
What is a support group?
In a support group, people come together who share common issues in hopes of supporting each other and providing encouragement, emotional support, advice, and comfort to group members.
Support groups come in all types and formats. These groups exist to support people with addiction, cancer, anxiety, and depression, among many other mental health problems.
Support groups can also be specific to certain jobs and roles, like caretaking or raising a child with physical or mental health conditions.
Attending support groups is beneficial for people facing challenges because it helps them feel less alone and teaches them coping skills to handle the stress associated with their condition.
Building connections with group members who are experiencing (or have experienced) similar challenges can positively impact a person’s mental health.
While a support group is not an alternative to medical care, the right group can improve the negative feelings associated with a physical or mental health condition.
Who can benefit from a support group?
Let’s face it—when you’re facing a physical health challenge or mental illness, your family members and friends can only do so much to help.
Joining a support group provides you with access to people who have faced similar difficulties and that have a better understanding of what you are going through.
Anyone living with a condition that impacts their mental or physical health can benefit from a support group.
Additionally, caretakers and family members who live with or care for someone who has a mental illness can find support and encouragement from this type of group.
Key benefits of support groups
Support group participation is highly effective for a wide range of mental health issues.
It can benefit individuals in very different ways, but generally speaking, these are the key benefits of participating in support groups:
Building a community
After attending your first few meetings of a support group, you’ll discover that you aren’t alone in your feelings and struggles. You will hear other group members’ personal stories and likely build connections based on what they experienced and what you’re living through.
The more time you spend learning about others’ personal experiences, the more trust, and respect you will have for the individuals in your group meetings. In time, other members may become close, trusted friends of yours because of your shared experiences and the moral support you can provide each other.
Improving social skills
People with mental health issues often struggle in social situations due to fear of judgment by others. Joining a support group can be highly beneficial because it will help you gain social skills while feeling entirely safe to share your feelings.
As you feel more comfortable opening up to group members, you may find your social skills improving. Group sessions encourage members to be open and honest but always on their own terms and when they feel safe and comfortable in doing so.
Find new perspective and hope
Whether you’re living with anxiety or have recently received a difficult health diagnosis, support groups can provide hope and perspective by introducing you to other group members who have survived, recovered, and are living their lives with a mental health condition, illness, or disease.
Many individuals in therapy have lost hope or feel like their lives may never improve because of their condition. Meeting people in recovery, which can often be their support group leaders, can provide support and encouragement and may drastically change a perspective.
Gain coping skills and resources
In all types of support groups, members share their successes and failures with their condition to provide insight into what has worked for them. If you have been struggling to find healthy coping mechanisms, a therapy group can be a great place to discover new strategies.
For example, in cancer support groups, members may share specific books they read during chemo, meditation recommendations, or aromatherapy products that help with any uncomfortable chemo side effects.
Peer support groups focus on resources and patient education that can help group members improve their daily lives. This can include sharing tools, websites, and books with the individual or their family members, and advice and different perspectives on recovery.
Types of support groups
There are several types of support groups that may benefit your health condition or challenge. These include:
Online support groups
If you have constraints on time or your location, online support groups are ideal for receiving care and support without having to leave your home. Online support groups can be dedicated to specific topics, age groups, or genders.
Online groups also offer more anonymity for group members, which many prefer when seeking a support group, particularly for eating disorders and substance abuse issues.
Mutual support groups
Mutual support groups are led by individuals who attend regularly and that receive training to help keep the group on track.
Peer support groups are designed to provide mental and social support and coping strategies to improve the well-being of group members who are facing difficulties in their daily lives. This can be anything from a physical illness, social issue, family struggles, or mental health issue.
Peer-led support groups are typically available for no cost and can be online or in-person.
Therapy groups are led by a professional therapist that is qualified to provide treatment for the members. A group therapy setting is designed to help individuals change and grow through various modalities and approaches, while support groups are focused on helping members cope.
Group therapy usually has a fee but is often covered by health insurance.
A self-help group is peer-led and designed to help members learn to live with various mental health conditions and challenges. Group members offer their support and experience with the goal of helping others through recovery.
Potential drawbacks of joining a support group
Most groups have focused goals and group guidelines that members must abide by in order to keep the meetings productive. In order to do so, a professional facilitator is often necessary to keep everyone on track.
However, there are still a few possibilities for distractions that can turn a positive meeting environment into a problematic support group.
Here are a few signs or red flags that it may be time to find a different support group:
- High fees to join the group
- Promise for a cure for mental illness or physical condition
- Hostile or erratic behavior from other members is possible
- Minimal ground rules can lead to a lack of boundaries
Find a support group that fits your needs at Clear Behavioral Health.
Receiving a health diagnosis or living with an illness, whether physical or mental, can be overwhelming and draining. If you are struggling, support is available in many formats.
At Clear Behavioral Health, we offer in-person and online support groups for various mental health disorders. Our treatment options are designed to help patients get the help they deserve, regardless of location or time constraints.
If your lifestyle requires a flexible therapy group option, you’ll be pleased to learn that both online group and individual therapy are available through Clear Behavioral Health. We use HIPAA-compliant video conferencing for your privacy in the comfort of your own home.