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.

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