Are Mental Health Support Groups Helpful?

hands of support

With May being Mental Health Month, I wanted to present some back-to-basic resources for you if you’re just starting your mental health journey or if you’re someone interested in supporting a mental health cause or movement. I welcome your eyes to read, comments, and questions, whether for yourself, or a loved one : )

When I first started seeking ways to “be a better Lynn”, I turned to self-help.  I wasn’t really ready for much else, because I didn’t think any further than simply wanting to be happier or rather, less miserable. Free or low-cost resources are obviously some of the most accessible ways to begin a healing journey, (even if you don’t know that’s the kind of journey you’re on). Some of those resources are blogs about mental health and personal development, YouTube videos, books, free mental health educational lectures or workshops, and support groups.  Because support groups are both educational and also involve getting out of your head and taking action, I wanted to give you the scoop on those 1st.

So, what are support groups?

My personal interpretation of support groups is that they are a structured way of holding space for one another.

However, so we’re all on the same page, according to WebMD, (and pretty much most sites you Google for a definition) “Support groups are organizations of people who share a common disorder, like depression or anxiety, and who meet together to discuss their experiences, share ideas, and provide emotional support for one another.”

There are least 2 types of support groups: Peer support/self-help, and groups led by mental health professionals like therapists. And although they are plentiful, there is not a universal appeal of self-help groups; as few as 17% of people invited to attend a self-help group will do so.

I understand that both fear of stigma and lack of awareness can keep others at bay. So, I am not going to tell you that all the cool kids do it and so should you.

However, I’m making it no secret that I’m all for support groups. I joined my 1st support group after my therapist suggested it. That group was professionally facilitated and I didn’t need much convincing to go. At that time in my life I was so down that I was fully open to anything that would help me get my life back, but truth be told, better than get my old life back, I started the path towards mental health recovery and spiritual healing.

So, to get perspective, I reached out to my social network about their views on support groups whether good, bad, or downright ugly. I wanted to know if they thought these groups were helpful or not.

I learned that people don’t go to support groups because they feel that they will just “get over it” because “such is life”. Some people don’t see anything wrong with their habits (even if other people do), and some people feel they don’t have the time.

For those who do get involved with support groups, they do so for various reasons. There are some who like me, were sick and tired of being sick and tired, some were convinced to attend support groups due to spouses giving them ultimatums, some because church clergy recommended it, (and even though it took them a lot on convincing they eventually went through with it) and some were required by law.  Those who felt rather forced to join groups confessed that they began to see positive changes in their lives after being in them for a time, or at the very least they felt better knowing that they weren’t alone.

So let’s look at the pros and cons…

Benefits of support groups include:

1) Well for one, they are an evidenced-based method for improved mental health.  Research has shown that support groups provide many benefits to its members/participants.

2) One of the biggest issues when struggling with a mental health disorder or even simply “the blehs” is that you tend to want to isolate because you think “the world just won’t understand”.  Support groups emphasize that you are not alone. Attending them keeps you from hiding away from life and you learn that “it’s not just you”, when you thought it was the whole time.

3) Many groups are anonymous, you don’t even have to give your contact information if you don’t want. This gives you the opportunity and freedom to express yourself, and to finally have a voice.

4) By listening to others share their lived experience you in turn learn to develop effective coping skills. You can then later put those newly learned coping skills into practice for your own life circumstances.

5) When you practice healthy behaviors, (like coping techniques) you build up your self-esteem. Building up your self-esteem enhances your sense of self-worth. Self-worth opens the door to making even healthier choices which increases your mental wellness.

6) Earlier I mentioned holding space, one way to hold space is by allowing someone to take off their social mask and be herself/himself so that they can receive empathetic listening and compassion – instead of shame.

7) This is a controversial one: You can learn to manage mental health disorders like anxiety and depression without medication. I say controversial because there are professionals and advocates who believe that medications are either the best, or only true solution for managing ones illness. I don’t agree that meds are the only effective solution for managing mental health disorders as someone who is pro-natural healing/alternative methods and who has never taken medications for mental health issues. However, I cannot emphasize enough that if you are prescribed medication for mental disorders, then you will not want to just stop taking your pills because you’ve suddenly started going to a support group. If wanting to learn how to manage a mental health diagnosis and living life beyond the meds is on your agenda it is very, very important to do so with the aid and advisement of your medical professional team.

The flip-side of support groups:

There is no perfect group. Support groups are made up of imperfect people. So, just like shopping for a doctor, or therapist you have to choose carefully where you want to spend your time and not get discouraged on the 1st try. Most 12-step groups ask people to attend a few meetings before they make a decision to join. I think that’s a good way to approach any kind of support group.

Just know, that you may walk into a group setting and feel immediately that it just isn’t right for you.  It could be resistance, but it could also be the fact that it’s supposed to be a place of practicing sobriety and everyone in the group goes out to have drinks afterwards. It could be a group that’s supposed to have no set leader and everyone is to be equals, but there’s a “grouptator” acting like they own the room and everyone in it.  There’s also a possibility that a group you really like may one day get a personality that rubs other group members the wrong way and as a result, the people who made the group worthwhile for you choose to walk away and seek their support elsewhere, or you can simply outgrow the group.

Ultimately, like most things in life, support groups are helpful depending on what you are willing to invest in them to make them useful for you. As the saying goes, “Take what you need and leave the rest.” If you’re willing to go to a support group, you have to be willing to seek out a group of people that you will want to heal together with. You also have to be willing to do the work (your own work) of recovery and healing.

Find a support group for yourself or a loved one

The great thing about seeking out support groups is you get to choose what makes you comfortable and what fits your needs at that particular time in life. You get to make healthy decisions for yourself by choosing what’s right for you, and that’s empowering in and of itself.

You can seek out support groups in your community and educate yourself about your symptoms and diagnosis. Social support and knowledge can be valuable tools for coping.

Psychcentral is a great place to find a listing of all kinds of support groups for various reasons. Check it out!

Until Next Time…Peace!

Oh! By the way, if you want to learn more about the blogger of this post feel free to check out my about page.

Sign up here for a free copy of The ABC Method to Managing Your Mental Health While Running a Business.

Mental Health Education For Family Members and Friends of Loved Ones with Mental Illness

lifelonglearning

Yesterday I learned that Amy Bleuel, the Founder of Project Semicolon, a global nonprofit founded in 2013 that is dedicated to presenting hope and love for those who are struggling with mental illness, suicide, addiction and self-injury had passed away at the young age of 31. I was deeply saddened by this news. For one, I knew the impact she had made via Project Semicolon, and the thousands of lives she had touched through a cause that started out as a way to honor her late father who had died by suicide years earlier. But also, I felt a bit numb because Amy and I had spoken one-on-one on several occasions. Besides being a speaker for the Love Yourself Love Your Business virtual conference, we had very vulnerable conversations with each other about mental health and the things going on in our work lives that were stressing us out and frustrating us. You don’t get to have that kind of intimacy often in this entrepreneurial dog eat dog world, so I felt awful that I didn’t even realize I no longer saw her posts which used to come very frequently through my Facebook newsfeed. But I think she would be proud to know that I’ve gotten a whole heck of a lot better with my coping skills. #Counseling #GetYouSome

Feelings of guilt, anger, frustration, heart brokenness, worry, fear, and angst because it hits a little too close to home are all feelings that I learned were very normal, and I have to thank my most recent mental health education for that. One major reason why it’s been extremely hard for me to keep up with everyone, (besides the fact that it’s just hard to do that with thousands of social media connections) is that my own family had crisis. My immediate family and most closest friends know more details about my own history with years of struggling with depression and anxiety, which was chronic and mild. So, when a family member has a major episode of psychosis we were unfortunately ill prepared. My ideas of calm meditation, eating healthy, yoga, and mindfulness kinda went out the window because telling someone who wields a sword and declares that they will protect the people of earth as a chosen warrior of God, to add some zen to their life doesn’t really cut it…at least not at that time.

And so determined to understand psychosis, which was new to me on a personal level, be a better knowledge base for my family and anyone else who came my way wondering how the heck do you deal with the sudden loss of a loved one either by physical death, or death of a personality you had grown to love, I took up the Mental Health First Aid training which is free and accessible, so I can be more aware and appropriately responsive.

I also enrolled in the NAMI Family-to-Family classes with my mother. NAMI Family-to-Family is a free, 12-session educational program for family, significant others and friends of people living with mental illness. It is a designated evidenced-based program. Research shows that the program significantly improves the coping and problem-solving abilities of the people closest to an individual living with a mental health condition.

I joined NAMI back in 2015 and even went to the annual conference in my state. I had been on the fence about being involved this year because I had gotten lost in their system via no responses to my correspondence and attempts to get more involved, which isn’t unusual for nonprofits at all. This is why I’ve a love/hate/grudgingly respect and appreciate relationship with large nonprofits and prefer to partner with smaller grassroots organizations. But I am very glad that NAMI has this program and I highly recommend checking it out even if you yourself have a mental health issue.

As someone who has been in mental health recovery for about 8 years it was completely new to hear from family members who associated themselves as “not mentally ill” and yet had the heart and determination to empathize and “come out” as die hard advocates.  I say new because I am used to hearing from people with lived experience rather than the outside looking in when they aren’t paid to be looking from the outside in. It gave me perspective, to say the least. I think perspective in and of itself can save a life.

Dr. Kelly Brogan (who I find quite controversial and wonderfully fascinating) wrote that “people require basic tools, simple truths, and community.” I agree with that. And I know that education is one of those basic tools.

The truth is, there is stigma within the mental health community itself.  Psychologists and Psychiatrists go at it, and so do people who have “severe” mental illness vs. those who have “high functioning” mental health disorders. I know for a fact that Amy had people questioning a lot of what she was doing, some of her ideas and thought leadership, and some of those people also had mental health issues.  This is why I believe that education isn’t just for the professionals who treat mental health disorders, but for the people who call themselves advocates and allies as well.

I’m going to end with this, if you felt triggered by the death of Amy do not feel ashamed, or guilty because you feel you are making it about you and not them…those feelings are normal and you are not alone. Reach out. The legacy continues as we continue to share our stories, as we continue to increase awareness and fight injustice and medical practices that do more harm than good. Let’s continue to share our hopes, our dreams for a society that has no stigma and a world that believes in mental wellness for all.

If you or a loved one need support right now, you can reach National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by calling: 1-800-273-8255. 

Until Next Time…Peace!

Oh! By the way, if you want to learn more about the blogger of this post feel free to check out my about page.

Sign up here for a free copy of The ABC Method to Managing Your Mental Health While Running a Business.

The Necessity of Self-Care for Black Women Making History Everyday with Dr. Kesha Moore

To celebrate Black History Month while cultivating my commitment to mental wellness and self-love on this blog, I invited one of my mentors, Dr. Kesha Moore to help me share some tips on practicing self-care as we work towards elevating our lives beyond just merely surviving but thriving.

Dr. Kesha delves deep into why is self-care so important for black women and how it has played a major role in the resilience of black women throughout history. We also discuss why self-care is even considered an “act political warfare” especially for black women. And finally we talk about how black women can practically apply self-care when faced with daily micro-aggressions.

You can listen to the recording by clicking here

About Dr. Kesha Mooredrkeshamoore

Kesha Moore, PhD is an educator, author, speaker, and executive coach who helps professional women maximize their productivity while creating lives of balance. Dr. Moore is the CEO of Life In Focus Coaching. She is also the author of the book Your Life as a Celebration: Accomplishing your goals with less stress and more joy.

Through her writing, teaching, and coaching activities, Dr. Moore provides female professionals with the most effective, research backed strategies for their personal and career development. She presents this information in a manner that is easy to understand and apply. Dr. Moore’s recognizes and has compassion for the significant challenges professional women face in fulfilling the competing demands of career and family. She discusses her challenges in this area and openly admits that “I was my first client.”

Key Highlights from interview

Self-care is a lot like cherishing a newborn. It is loving ourselves, nurturing ourselves, protecting ourselves, and not because we’ve accomplished anything. It’s because this is who we are. We are already people of tremendous value, unique and irreplaceable. So it’s not that we deserve self-care because we’ve achieved this goal, or hit this income or level of education, we deserve it because of who we are. And if we can love ourselves in those ways, then we do want to eat healthy, give ourselves the pleasure of taking a nice warm bath, or reading a good book.

• You can begin a practice of self-care by ritualizing the way you start and end your day.
Examples are: Journaling, Meditation, Reading a daily Devotion, Exercising, and Prayer

• We talk about who truly reaped the benefit of creating the stereotypical “Strong Black Woman” referencing the speech that originated with orator, Sojourner Truth and later called “Ain’t I a Woman?” or “Ar’nt I a Woman?”

When dealing with micro-aggressions we can look at self-care like an immune system. There are germs all around us and sometimes we can get sick and sometimes people are in that environment and don’t get sick. The difference is the quality of their immune system. Your immune system is able to take the things in your body that mean to harm you and process them and expel them from your body without doing so much damage.

Given the fact that we live in a racist and sexist society it’s a given that there will be daily assaults on our dignity, and on our humanity and so it’s essential we practice self-care regularly because that is our immune system. Self-care is how we are able to keep ourselves healthy, and to keep ourselves functioning in a dysfunctional context. So when we are practicing self-care, we are reminding ourselves of our own inherent dignity and value.

• We can accomplish this by connecting with other people who are like us and have experienced similar pain. We get a chance to finally say, ‘ok I’m not crazy, this just happened right?’ and someone is there to say like ‘yeah! That happened!’ This is self-care because we are exposed to these things {micro-aggressions} in such a pervasive way it can make you feel like ‘I deserve this’. So having communities of people that remind you that you’re valuable, you’re not what they say you are, that you deserve more, helps to heal us, emotionally, spiritually, and physically. There is a lot of research around the physical benefits that come with being in supportive communities.

The point is to get the thoughts that are running around outside in the society that says we aren’t valuable, that we don’t deserve 5 minute breaks that we don’t deserve to make more money, that we don’t deserve to be treated with dignity…all of those ideas that exist out there expelled from our body without them becoming parts of us and taking root in our minds. So we are able to preserve our minds through our immune system of self-care.

We explore the concept of flourishing to reach our optimal potential. In her book, Your Life As A Celebration: Accomplishing your goals with less stress and more joy Dr. Kesha discusses how we can transform our lives into a celebration of us. We can create a life that affirms our core values and engages in our life purpose.

• We also open up some fun dialogue about Art as both a reminder of our value and way to visualize ourselves thriving and not just getting by. (The quote I was trying to reference was “Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life” by Oscar Wilde.) We even nerd out about afrofuturism for good measure.

Until Next Time…Peace!

Oh! By the way, if you want to learn more about the blogger of this post feel free to check out my about page.

Sign up here for a free copy of The ABC Method to Managing Your Mental Health While Running a Business.

No More Martyrs and Clack Associates Unite for Mental Wellness

I mentioned in an older post that while I believe technology is the way of the future for mental health, I am a strong advocate for talk therapy and support groups. So when both are leveraged, I’m super excited about the possibilities…

Technology, namely social media platforms, have created digital bridges to connect advocates, activists, and professionals from around the world. I love that we can take what starts as a conversation online, through a simple Tweet, LinkedIn message, Snap, or Facebook message, and turn it into in-person endeavors while still being able to transcend the limitations of personal one to one touch.

One of those connections came about between Nadia M. Richardson, PhD the founder of the mental health awareness movement called No More Martyrs and Angela Clack, PsyD of Clack Associates.

Both Dr. Clack and Dr. Richardson were committed to building a community of support for black women with mental health concerns and decided to unite their unique super powers together to bring to life Dr. Clack’s desire to see more tailored mental health support for women of color in southern New Jersey coupled with Dr. Richardson’s vision of organized and structured Meetups beyond the confides of her region.

dr.clacksistersupportmeetup

One reason I like the concept of a meet up is because I understand that support groups sometimes turn people off, therefore meet ups are more accessible.  For example, while well-known support groups like AA garner the participation of many people, a new wave of contemporaries are exploring and developing alternative approaches for ongoing wellness outside the philosophy that one is always in a recovery cycle.

But what I like most about this concept is that this meet up isn’t entirely a peer-run group nor is it exactly group counseling. The meet up is more a FREE resource and an opportunity to break bread, enjoy engaging activities, and connect with women who may wish to share their unique experiences to encourage their fellow sisters. The meet up would have both a mental health peer specialist and licensed mental health professional present to make sure valuable resources and information are available.

I was most honored when Dr. Clack invited me to come on-board this outreach as the co-facilitating peer specialist for the NJ branch of the Meetup.  I am currently pursuing my certification so that I can bring my best to the role in our unified efforts to make mental wellness more accessible and fun for women of color.

Our first monthly meet up is this Thursday, January 19th. And being that I am an introvert, it’s going to be introvert friendly 😉 Hope to see you there if you’re in the area!

*Update* We meet every 3rd Thursday of the month please email clackassociates2005@gmail.com to RSVP*

Until Next Time…Peace!

Oh! By the way, if you want to learn more about the blogger of this post feel free to check out my about page.

Sign up here for a free copy of The ABC Method to Managing Your Mental Health While Running a Business.

Live Love Out Loud: A 2016 Year in Review Post

This last post of the year is a quick review of the ups and downs and “meh” moments from 2016. It’s a personal reflection, a public display of vulnerability, and most definitely not a “how to review your year and plan for the next” type of post. My hope is that through my personal experiences you gain some new insight and perspective.

glasess and hearts

As I’ve shared before in previous reviews, I center most of my intentions for the year around 6 areas or slices of life: Spiritual, Personal, Social, Physical, Professional, and Financial. Though I have come to believe that spirituality is the foundation of the pie and personal religion is the slice. It’s easier to keep it as is for now.

I also usually have a word and/or theme for the year that gives me a focal point for all the desires, intentions, commitments and goals I set for the year.

My word for 2016 was…actually I had 2 words this year Produce and Manifest

“Manifesting is practically translating your purpose, (purpose being loosely defined as your unique expression of love in the world) into an actionable blueprint for the next phase of life’s work which you are uniquely designed for”.

( I honestly cannot remember how I came up with that definition but I know it’s not my original wording; it simply coincided with my thinking, so I put quotes around it. )

My personal theme was: Live Love Out Loud

At the start of the year I identified that my theme was about my personal experience with love,  and the “out loud” part was about getting my thoughts on paper so to speak.

Throughout the year and by the end of the year I had documented out several guidelines and principles (instead of a “How-to” manual or set agenda)  to express what I was recollecting about love, and living with love as my foundation and personal religious practice.  The guidelines became clear to me as I looked to my intentions for each slice of life.

For instance, in my Social Slice (and as I reflect it touches into personal and spiritual as well)  I focused on relationships with men. One way I addressed this focus was through romantic type relationships. I had set out to get back into the dating scene after a much needed hiatus. I thought I’d find myself in a loving committed relationship, but instead I found great disappointment and yet another learning experience.

While I wanted to blame that disappointment on something (someone) outside of myself, I can only reflect on where shadow resided within myself that still needed to heal.  A major shadow area I had  to take a deeper look at was how I wanted to show up to relationships and most importantly, my perception of who was loveable and by whom.  My ACA/ACOA background planted a lot of negative messages in my head that I hadn’t realized still played on repeat. Choosing to be alone; to avoid relationships would not, and did not address those tapes.  Continuing to devour media that I know is purposely meant to make you feel “not enough” so you can buy something to “fix it” also did not help the situation. While I said I was looking to date, I realized later I was looking to confirm my perception of the dating landscape and how men perceived me as a black woman in an era of “black girl magic” coupled with protests about racial and social injustice.  *hint* It wasn’t a very positive outlook.

Let’s just say the whole dating experience triggered the mess out of me.

However, when I wanted to give up completely on the notion of being loved and shutting down that piece of my heart forever, I found that I couldn’t, because I wasn’t bitter and I also didn’t fully believe my negative perception anymore. The love I’d been researching, practicing, and blogging about actually became graspable by how fast I was able to bounce back from let down after let down.  I began to understand that love was always there for me and all I needed to do was reach within so I could perceive it better when I looked out.

I knew I had a right to be mad, (thanks for the reminder Solange) but still, I found compassion, and forgiveness. I sought to heal specific areas of my psyche that I hadn’t thought to analyze and build up coping skills for. And when I wanted to embrace my deepest fears and stay stuck, I chose love that extended beyond myself for true growth; love that sets healthy boundaries and not because a professional told me to have them but because I believed I was worthy of someone who would respect them and that having healthy boundaries would position me for joyful living. I chose love with standards that were no longer based on learned survival mechanisms from the helplessness of childhood, but the kind you discover when you’re realize the hidden power inside.

And when you are no longer concerned with the uncomfortable you feel about putting yourself and your needs 1st you understand that there is no one on this planet that is worth sacrificing your self-esteem over. I re-learned that people who honored their own boundaries, could honor mines. That people who are loving could act loving because they had it to give in the 1st place. And as I remembered what it felt like to be genuinely loved, and cared for (not simply tolerated, or grudgingly accepted) I began to encounter more and more people who showed me love, care, and respect for my boundaries.

I saw how these concepts translated into my professional slice. And knew I needed to let some things go this year that I could no longer carry with me into the new. One of those things was A & D Media. After “A” left the business to me, I hadn’t felt right about continuing it the way I did. Still I pressed on and did the best I could do to stick to the original plan and mission. We had set out to be a social media marketing firm, but as time went by I felt that a firm or even a small agency was not what I really wanted to run, especially when I had to do it without my business partner. After subcontracting with both an agency and a firm, that feeling was confirmed. So I felt a bit stuck for awhile and stopped actively marketing my business.I hid behind client work, I focused on side projects and ignored what helped make those side projects even possible and in turn I made me miserable.

I could not preach out loving yourself loving your business if I was not loving my own. I knew I’d be making changes and I knew I needed help doing so. I began working with the amazing Anastacia Brice of AssistU. I had met quite a few virtual service providers who had worked with her and I admired their confidence, realness, skills, and fire so I was excited to work with an industry pioneer but most importantly someone who claimed that, “Loving is my calling, my honor, my absolute joy, and at the center of everything I do professionally and personally.”

Throughout the year we worked together on a lot of my mindset issues and began developing and documenting business standards and modes of operating that represented how I could make love visible through my work; through a business that represented my strengths, my personality, my aptitude to learn and grow, and my ready and willingness to embrace and embody my authentic self, it would reflect more in how I showed up in my work practices for my clients.  I still have a lot to learn, but I’ve learned a lot of important foundational things along the way. For one, even though I can and do delegate and even partner up from time to time on special projects, (like mental wellness web series, and mental health healing circles) I’m a solopreneurial type of “preneur” and will be rebranding my business to reflect that in 2017.

Between working with my coach and helping one of my clients set up her amazing free make money your honey makeover challenge,(starting January 9th) I had the courage to take a good hard look at my numbers, not estimates, but the true costs of running a business that is sustainable and profitable. It was a wakeup call that if I wanted to remain in business, a mutually beneficial business, I had to stop allowing others to define the worth of my profession and my role in it.

As I look back over the last 12 months, all of this year felt like a set up and preparation for what was to come next. And there was a lot of learning about how I wanted to show up to my personal practice of love along the way. I encountered many circumstances that called for me to step out of my comfort zone, from traveling for work conferences and retreats, to saving a friendship even if that meant sacrificing income, to figuring out how to be an empathetic big sis towards my younger siblings who lost a great deal this year, to learning what it takes to build true community by learning what NOT to do. And I documented as much as possible to reference along the way. Some of these documentations were gathered for the book I’ve been working on about mental health and entrepreneurship which I’m planning to publish in 2017 (This is more concrete now that I have finished my 1st draft) while some of these documentations were meant just for my eyes… for now.

At the start of this post you might have noticed that I underlined actionable blueprint and work. I did this because I noticed one led to the other, so while this year it was about producing this actionable blueprint, next year is most definitely about the work and I’m ready to roll up my sleeves and get to it.

Until Next Time…Peace!

Oh! By the way, if you want to learn more about the blogger of this post feel free to check out my about page.

Sign up here for a free copy of The ABC Method to Managing Your Mental Health While Running a Business.