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22 Dec 2018

What a Support Group Can Do for You

Human beings by nature are social animals, inherently longing for a sense of connectedness and belonging. As a result, we form communities wherever we are. They typically comprise family, friends and various others we regularly interact with. Our communities have a central function in our lives providing emotional support, security, comfort and shape the way we engage with the world around us.

Research suggests, when a person has at least one or more healthy relationships they are likely to become more resilient. Resilience is one’s ability to cope with stress and adversity; some characteristics of this trait are positive attitude, optimism and ability to regulate emotions.

A study found that the more resilient a person is the easier it is for them to cope with psychiatric symptoms, stress and other major life events; implying that our communities can help us cope and manage a variety of adversities that we face in our lives.

In fact, healthy relationships with friends was found to correlate with improved life expectancy in this study. Researchers found that friendship had a much more significant impact on life expectancy when compared to relationships with family members.

Support Group

People living with mental illnesses can find it hard to confide in others, even to those closest to them. Additionally, the stigma associated with mental illness makes it even harder for these marginalised individuals to speak up and ask for help.

Support groups can bridge this gap by providing an alternative safe space for mutual support through shared experiences, anecdotal knowledge and similar concerns about mental health issues and its recovery. These groups are informal forums where people share about living with mental illness, addictions, chronic illness and are sometimes open to caregivers supporting people with these issues. They can also be used to disseminate a wide array of information regarding various mental illnesses. This educates the caregiver giving them a more comprehensive and holistic understanding of the illness at hand.

Why join a support group?

  • Individuals can create their own communities to foster comraderie and provide them with the social and emotional support they need.
  • The dynamics of the individuals within the group facilitates faster recovery and aids the process of healing.
  • Members have shared experiences which allows them to grow, learn and empathise with one another. This promotes the perspective and notion that, “I am not alone.”
  • Members who offer support gain a sense of self-efficacy which in turn boosts their self-esteem and confidence.
  • They serve as a non-pharmacological, convenient and affordable way to cope with chronic conditions such as autism spectrum disorders, personality disorders, schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.
  • Participation in these groups is on one’s own terms, members are allowed to join or leave at any time.

What are some drawbacks of being in self-help groups?

  • It can be challenging to maintain confidentiality as participants of the support group are not obligated to do so.
  • Participants need to be willing to share in front of a room full of people.
  • Some members may even find it hard to become open and vulnerable in these sessions due to the presence of an audience.
  • Individuals that join these groups must function with some normalcy in order to be able to contribute to these sessions and not be triggered by others sharing.

Research has shown that most people tend to benefit from participating in support groups. However, there is a common misconception that support groups can serve as an alternative to formal therapy. But that is not true, rather support groups compliment formal psychotherapy. This being said, all our bodies are different and require different combinations of treatment. It is essential that one finds a combination that is suited to their needs.

Some well-known support groups in India include Alcoholics Anonymous, Indian Cancer Society, Action for Autism and AASRA.

If you or anyone you know is experiencing difficulty with a mental illness we urge you to contact a mental health professional, call our helpline partners or click here to find a therapist near you.

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