Many people have found a host of support by joining a group of people with a common interest. When people suffer from certain illnesses, whether physical or mental, they tend to isolate themselves with feelings that they are in their situation alone. This is where the power of a support group can be realized; it is a great place to address issues and concerns while being empowered to push forward. Research has proven that sharing with, and hearing from, others with similar experiences can be extremely beneficial for anyone facing an illness.
Support groups are not the same as group therapy. They are generally less structured and are primarily focused on providing a safe and confidential environment where people are free to share experiences and strategic coping mechanisms all while forming invaluable connections with others who have similar concerns. Although these groups are not generally run by a trained professional, there is a wealth of information and advice shared between members of the group based on personal experience of managing their illness.
Some people are hesitant to seek support outside of their family and friends, while many others have found seeking help from others outside of their immediate circle to be very beneficial. Support groups should never replace a person’s standard medical care, but are often recommended by physicians for finding valuable coping resources. Many groups are run by hospitals, nonprofit agencies as well as other recognized organizations.
Although experience is not always the best teacher, the collective experiences of people within a support group provide a unique opportunity on which to draw from. Individuals who are currently dealing with or have already navigated a certain condition may have tips or advice for managing the challenges of an illness that cannot be realized simply by attending a physician’s office. Learning how others have dealt with similar issues has a unique way of enhancing one’s surviving abilities.
Additionally, support groups bridge the isolation gap many feel because of any stigma that may be associated with the illness. These are safe and welcoming environments which are filled with understanding, reassurance, positive reinforcement, hope and compassion. Members tend to develop special bonds through sharing their honest feelings, humor, accomplishments and losses. causing them to develop emotional connections with one another.
It is important to note that patients are not the only ones who can benefit from the power of support groups. Family members and friends also need an outlet to share and an environment where they can learn new strategies. Many communities offer different support groups which meet concurrently in efforts of increasing convenience for patients and their loved ones to participate uniquely within separate groups.
Support groups for those connected to the patient are much-needed environments for expressing frustrations and sharing concerns that they would rather not share in the company of the patient. These groups can also help them learn more about their loved one’s illness and available treatment by confronting surrounding stigmas and identifying symptoms earlier.
Just as with any new experience, initially patients may be nervous about sharing personal issues with a group of strangers. That is absolutely normal and acceptable; early on the major benefit may come from simply listening. As individuals become comfortable, they will feel more liberated to contribute their own experiences and ideas allowing them to gain more from the group. Please do not allow fear or other useless excuses to be the determining factors on whether or not a support group is the right method; push pass those emotions and make every effort to be empowered towards a better future.
Support groups have proven to be extremely beneficial. They not only motivate and inspire, but allow patients and their loved ones to take a more active role in their treatment process. Meeting regularly with others who understand their condition can increase a person’s opportunities to meet their goals. These groups are for anyone facing a stressful life change or major illness. There is no need to attempt it alone, find a support group to help with coping strategies and make viable connections while sharing and learning valuable experiences along the journey towards recovery.
by Cherese Jackson (Virginia)
Resolve: Benefits of Joining a Support Group
WebMD: Support Groups
Depression Tool Kit: Thinking about joining a support group?