Support Groups for People Suffering From Depression
Getting the right support for depression can help sufferers manage their symptoms and stay on track with their treatment regimens. Depression can be an overwhelming, chronic disorder that can make sufferers feel isolated and alone. But support groups can give depression sufferers the friendship and guidance they need when living with a chronic mental health condition.
What is a support group?
People who suffer from mental health disorders like depression need outside support to manage their depression symptoms. The disease can significantly impair a patient’s perception of themselves and how their symptoms are affecting them. Outside support groups can encourage patients, and also point out ways to effectively manage their symptoms. Talking about how depression has changed a person’s life with people who are in similar situations can also greatly ease some of the emotional burdens of living with such a disorder. Support groups aren’t just for depression or mental health conditions, either. There are support groups for grief, trauma, caregiving, and addiction.
Many different organizations and communities sponsor depression support groups. Church or religious organizations sometimes sponsor support groups for mental health conditions. Mental Health America and the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance are two organizations that sponsor depression support groups throughout the U.S. Some of the most well-known support groups use a twelve-step model that is found in Alcoholics Anonymous groups. In these groups, members’ identities are kept confidential.
A depression support group is not psychotherapy and is not intended to replace psychotherapy treatment methods. A support group intends to give patients a safe place to talk about their disorder, and give and receive support and encouragement for what they’re facing. While support groups can help alleviate some of the feelings of isolation and anger that often face depression sufferers, the support group is supposed to be an auxiliary function and is not intended to take the place of professional therapy or medication for depression symptoms.
When someone with depression joins a support group, the knowledge of being surrounded by individuals who know exactly what they’re going through can be beneficial to the healing process.
One of the most common depression symptoms is social isolation and withdrawal. Joining a support group can help patients from lifelong, healthy, and healing friendships with other depression survivors. People in a depression support group can also talk about different therapies and medications that have helped them with their symptoms. Support groups give the added benefit of being a resource for additional depression therapies and treatments, and not just friendship.
How do support groups work?
Support groups operate under voluntary self-disclosure. Members can talk about their issues and ideas as little or as much as they are comfortable. Support group participants are not pressured into speaking if they aren’t ready.
Most depression support groups are affiliated with larger mental health organizations or communities. But some are independently owned and operated by depression survivors. Sometimes, groups will meet in a member’s home, but usually, group meetings take place in public spaces such as libraries, parks, cafes, or even religious buildings. Groups are often led and organized by a professional mental healthcare worker or advocate.
For depression sufferers who are concerned about maintaining their anonymity or do not have access to a support group in their area, online support groups can help. Member’s identities are kept confidential when they join an online support group.
How can someone find and join a support group?
While searching online may be an excellent place to start, many community depression support groups can’t be found online. Patient’s may be able to quickly and easily find a support group that will meet their needs by asking their doctor or therapist for recommendations first.
For most patients with depression, they will need to try different medications or therapists before finding a treatment regimen that will work for them. The same principle may apply to support groups. It’s not uncommon for patients to try several support groups before finding one where they feel at home. Every group is different, and it’s important that patients find a group where they are comfortable enough to share their struggles and reach out for much-needed support.
How can a support group help someone with depression?
Depression can make sufferers feel ashamed, or embarrassed easily and afraid to speak up. For depression sufferers who are trying a support group for the first time, it’s important to remember that it’s okay just to listen. Support groups don’t force people to participate in the discussion, nor do members and leaders point out another group member’s lack of participation. Sometimes, simply listening to other member’s stories and encouragement can be enough to offer some relief from feeling isolated and alone with depression symptoms. However, it’s crucial that members respect the confidentiality of the group and refrain from sharing any personal information about other group members with friends or family.
Depression can also make patients afraid or embarrassed to ask questions and advocate for what they need from family or friends. Support groups can give patients the encouragement they need to ask difficult questions and advocate for their needs. Members who ask questions and talk about what treatment methods have worked for them often don’t realize how much their participation is helping someone who hasn’t had the courage to speak up yet.
Sharing information and personal stories can be empowering for depression survivors and shows them that they aren’t alone in their struggles. Welcoming encouragement and support in a group setting can also demonstrate to people who aren’t as far along in their journey that there is help available for depression sufferers and it’s not wrong to advocate for better treatment and support.
Who Can Join a Support Group?
Most support groups are very welcoming, but there may still be some rules for membership requirements. Typically, support groups ask that you be a person who has been affected by a condition such as depression. Some groups only allow people who have a diagnosis, while others may be open to anyone who feels they suffer from an ailment. Some groups also welcome the friends and family members of those with the condition to their meetings.
Each group is different, so take the time to question the type of people they accept into their group. Remember that being in the group will also mean agreeing to any guidelines that are in place. To join, you may need to comply with things like keeping members’ names confidential, not dating members of the group, or assisting with providing group materials.
What Happens During a Support Group Meeting?
At the beginning of the meeting, new members may introduce themselves, and longtime members may provide updates on their life. Usually, anyone who wishes to speak can do so. Some groups may have a leader who chooses a specific topic for the day. Occasionally, mental health support groups invite experts to talk about transcranial magnetic stimulation or other treatments.
Mental health support groups often encourage members to set goals. To find the most effective ways of supporting members, groups may work alongside a mental health professional. Though support groups do not take the place of counseling, they can often supplement it. In support groups, patients may learn healthier coping strategies or better ways of processing negative emotions.
The main focus of support groups is not solely about mingling with others, but there is often a socializing component. Before or after the meeting, members may enjoy snacks and chat casually with each other. Sometimes, there are group outings, such as grabbing a bite to eat or watching a movie following a meeting.
Choosing Between Online and In-Person Support Groups
Support groups are available both online and in person. Both options can be constructive ways of dealing with depression and other conditions. To find the right choice for yourself, you need to consider each group’s benefits.
The benefits of support groups online include:
- Complete anonymity
- Easier communication for those with social anxiety
- Support at unconventional hours
- Options to get help for rarer conditions
Meanwhile, in-person support groups provide:
- In-person contact that offers mental health benefits
- More stability in the type of group members
- Opportunities to speak to mental health professionals
- Less risk of misunderstandings
- A reason to leave the home
Ultimately, mental health support groups can be a great way to manage your mental health alongside other treatments. For those dealing with challenges like depression or OCD, transcranial magnetic stimulation can help.
For patients in the L.A. and Santa Barbara areas, the Mental Wellness Center offers depression, mental health, and addiction support groups. Patients can also consult the Santa Barbara and L.A. NAMI chapters for a list of depression support groups in the region.
If you or someone you love is suffering from depression, please reach out to a qualified mental health care professional today to explore your treatment options.
Updated content on 2/1/21