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5 Tips for Building Your Own Depression Support Group Online

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Having depression can make us feel alone and isolated so much of the time. We can feel like no one else in the world understands our problems. The one thing that seems so far away is a person to talk to who cares, understands and is willing to listen.

I experienced depression for over two decades, with only my wife to talk to. But I felt like such a burden to her, I needed more. My solution was to take my problems to social media. This allowed me to process what was going on in my life and “come out” about my depression to those in my circle.

Writing, for me, was an easy way to express myself, so I blogged about depression for a small website and shared my posts on my Facebook page. But, I understand that not everyone feels comfortable expressing themselves in such a long-term manner.

So, in addition to my blog posts, I would just post on my wall when I was feeling good, bad or lonely. Over time, some people would write comments back to me or even send me private messages. Watching who did that more regularly gave me ideas for who could be my support group.

Here are some things I did that helped me build my own support group.

1. Put your story out there.

I realize how intimidating it is to type “I think I need help,” and hit the post button on social media. It is a huge, courageous act, and it’s a step I thought about for months before I actually did it.

Putting yourself out there like that is scary and sometimes overwhelming. But once you do it, it’s over and you’ve taken the hardest step of self-care you can ever take.

You need to know what you are comfortable with when you take this first step. For me, giving it a ton of thought and then suddenly just vomiting it out there was the way to go. I needed to get my secret out and go global with it.

For others, a much gentler touch might be needed. It might be one private message or a quiet conversation over coffee that starts with, “Hey, can I tell you something?” Or it might fall somewhere in-between.

This is a gigantic and important thing for anyone with depression. We all need someone to know. It could be a matter of life or death.

2. Find someone to be your person.

This is not necessarily an absolute step, especially if you find a few people willing to be there after you initially reach out, but it’s one I’ve personally found to be very beneficial.

When I first announced I had depression, a surprising number of people reached out to me. A few had experiences of their own. I kept them a little closer than the others, although I appreciated everyone who said something encouraging. I kept blogging and posting.

I started noticing really informed and intelligent comments from one woman in particular. I had never met this woman; she friended me after reading one of my blogs. And I realized this was another moment to take a big risk and put myself out there again.

I sent her a private message, saying, “Hey. Hi. Forgive me if this is creepy and feel free to say no, but I really appreciate your comments and support, would you mind if we talked directly?” And she agreed. That was three years ago now; I still consider her my go-to person, we support each other, and we’ve still never met, but I count her as one of my best friends. We check in on each other pretty regularly and I feel like I could go to her with anything that crosses my mind. She has been invaluable in my progress and recovery from depression.

Always be on the lookout for that person.

3. Reach out and say hi.

When you’re looking to build a support group for yourself, try taking an interest in other people’s lives. I know, this is another awkward suggestion when you just want to stay in bed and watch Cartoon Network all day. But hear me out.

Find old friends or acquaintances you like and might want to get to know better. Give them a call or send them a message. Keep it simple. “Hey, it’s been a while, how are you doing?” Sometimes, when I’m feeling down, I’ll send out a bunch of messages that just say, “Have a good day today.” I’ve found people respond well to this sort of thing, and it makes me feel good doing it. It’s a simple, mutual act of caring.

Over time, you might find conversations starting that you weren’t expecting. People will start to take an interest in you when you show interest in them. These little interactions can grow into nourishing friendships. I’ve had it happen several times.

4. Be honest and transparent.

Whether you’ve found your person, have a couple of blooming friendships or have a full-fledged group, you’ve got to be real. When things are rough, ask for help. When things are going well, or even when you have a small victory, celebrate it with your people.

This is when you’ll find out who’s really on your side. Your life is messy. If they’re willing to go through it all with you, good and bad, move them to your inner circle. You’ve found people who truly care about you and want to see you get well. They will be there when you need them. This is who you’ve been looking for.

None of this is to suggest you forget about or disregard the other people who have shown you support. Many people care, it’s just that not everyone can get in it with you neck-deep when you need help. I cut a lot of people out of my wider circle, and it was a mistake I will always regret.

Show appreciation for any support you are given.

5. Support your support group.

Deepen your relationships with your support group by giving them support when they need it. Tell them and show them you care about them the way they have cared for you. I don’t have much more to offer on this point; it’s where I’m at now. All I can say is that I’m now reaching the kind of relationships I thought were impossible for nearly two decades. It is profoundly gratifying.

Telling someone with depression to put themselves out there over and over again sounds crazy. It is one of the hardest things you will ever have to do. It’s terrifying; there’s no getting around it. I have only taken these steps over the last five years or so.

Building a support group — at least for me — was a long but rewarding process. It is not the solution to all of your problems, but having one will make your journey through depression much more bearable.

I hope these suggestions are helpful to you. I wish you peace.

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Originally published: January 10, 2019
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