Adapted From: Bipolar by Chance: The Bipolar Connection http://bipolarbychance.blogspot.com
Whether you are a consumer/recipient/client of mental health services or a family member of someone you love with a mental illness, support groups can be helpful. Coping and living with mental illness can be challenging, leaving one feeling discouraged and overwhelmed.
The operative word in the term, “support group,” is support. Having the strength of others with similar issues can help relieve that feeling of isolation, which often accompanies being confronted with issues that seem beyond one’s depth and capacity. If you live with a mental illness, attempting to understand what has happened to you can be dealt with through the experiences of those who have had the same (or similar) paths.
Stigma, particularly self-stigma, is a constant companion when mental illness surfaces. Being with others in a support group can “normalize” shared, common experiences and leave one with the feeling that mental illness is not quite so onerous. Mental illness can be dealt with. The sense of shame attached to a mental disorder, that scary image that is conjured up when we think of “mental,” is reduced. The idea is: “If they can do it, so can I.”
Hearing others’ share common concerns and their “stories” in a support group can help one think; believe that their own problems and situations aren’t too bad or unmanageable. Support from others can help promote a new vision of what life can become. As well, the value of support groups can include the opportunity to make new friends, to not isolate from the world and to add some structure to one’s routine.
Support groups are not always for everyone. It can depend where you are in the recovery process. Hearing support group participants talk about their symptoms may make one’s condition worsen. Getting too much information can fan the flames of fear and alarm at what seems a barrage of emotions set loose by the difficulties of others. If this is you right now, keep in mind that the support group experience may be something to reconsider and return to when you are further along in recovery. Individual therapy, with a licensed clinician, may be a better alternative for you right now.
Finally, support group attendance can be a gateway to further action in the community as an advocate for mental illness; fighting the fight to reduce stigma, to normalize and educate others. Support groups can benefit everyone: persons with mental illness, families/loved ones, and the community-at-large.