(MayoClinic.com) If you have depression or another mental health condition, it could be worth investigating support groups. Support groups can help you feel less alone, find new coping skills and motivate you to stick to a treatment plan. Evaluating support groups and finding the right one can be challenging, but ultimately rewarding. Here's a look at how support groups may help you and how to evaluate support groups to see whether they suit your needs.
Support groups are groups of people who share a common condition or interest. A number of support groups are run by nonprofit organizations, mental health clinics or other established organizations. Others are started by a layperson who has a mental health disorder or a family member with one.
Support groups have a variety of formats, including in person, on the Internet or by telephone. Most mental health support groups focus on a specific condition, such as depression, substance abuse or eating disorders. Support groups are not the same as group counseling (psychotherapy), which involves group counseling with a psychologist or other mental health provider. Members of a mental health support group share their personal journey with depression or other mental health conditions and share comfort, support and advice based on their own experiences.Benefits of mental health support groups
Healthy support groups offer a variety of benefits, from the emotional to the practical. The benefits of support groups include:
You may be nervous about sharing personal issues with people you don't know. So at first, you may benefit from a support group simply by listening. Over time, though, contributing your own ideas and experiences can help you get more out of a support group.Sizing up mental health support groups
Support groups come in many forms, ranging from meetings held in a member's home to nonprofit organizations with a paid staff and a range of programs. You may need to search around to find a support group that meets your needs. Some self-help groups are tailored to a particular group of people. Some groups are for those with a mental health condition, while others might be for loved ones of someone with a mental health condition or issue. Some focus on particular challenges linked to a mental health condition, such as suicidal thinking or coping with the death of a spouse. Others offer support to minorities.Questions to ask when considering a support group:
Plan to attend a few support group meetings to see how you fit in. If the support group makes you uncomfortable or you don't find it useful, try another one. Remember that even a support group you like can change as participants come and go. Periodically evaluate the support group to make sure it continues to meet your needs.Online mental health support groups
Depression and mental health support groups have blossomed on the Internet. The support from a "virtual community" may be just as valuable to you as support from a group that meets in person. Internet support group formats include:
Use caution when interacting in Internet support groups:
Although support groups can offer many benefits, not all support groups are good for you or provide accurate information. Be wary of what other people advocate, and check with your doctor before making any changes. If you have depression, for instance, don't be tempted to stop taking antidepressants without consulting your doctor simply because you may hear about a "natural" product to take instead.
Here are some signs that a mental health support group isn't in your best interest or isn't working for you:
Ways you can find a support group include:
Support groups for depression and other mental health conditions aren't a substitute for medical treatment or mental health counseling, but they can be a valuable addition. They may teach you new coping skills, encourage you to follow through on treatment and help you feel less isolated. Although opening up to others can initially be difficult, you may get more out of a support group than you thought you could. Be sure to talk openly with your doctor or mental health provider about your participation in support groups. Many doctors today see the benefits of support groups, whether they meet in person or online.
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