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10 Reasons I Recommend Attending a Mental Health Support Group

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After over 10 years of attending individual therapy, I recently decided to make the leap to attend a support group. I was never anti doing so, it was just something I really hadn’t thought of, and thought perhaps it wasn’t for me. After a few tries, I found a support group that I liked and I have now been attending it for half a year. It benefits me so much and I wish I tried it sooner! So with that in mind, I’d like to present to you the 10 reasons you should attend support group:

1. Getting out the door

There are times I’m so overcome by depression, just leaving my apartment is a major feat. Making it out the door and simply arriving at group is, in itself, a major accomplishment.

2. Recognizing common themes

It is very usual for several people in group to be going through the same thing. As we talk through our experiences, we are better able to come up with solutions, see things in a different light and feel less isolated.

3. Gaining more self-compassion

This point is related to the former. When you hear other people share their stories, you automatically feel compassion toward them. Along with this, is helping the other members to reframe their negative self-views. Once you start doing this for others, it isn’t a very big leap until you realize you should do it for yourself.

4. Seeing familiar faces and making friends

Mental illness can be extremely isolating and it’s not uncommon to lose friends along the way. This is a chance to meet new people — people who truly know what it’s like to have gone through similar issues. Some people in group may become someone you get to exchange pleasantries with each week. Others though, you may begin to see beyond group and become friends. One of my closest friends I met in a support group, so trust me, it’s possible.

5. Free or low cost

Most support groups are free or at most, low cost. Individual therapy can be expensive, which is a huge barrier to folks receiving treatment. Group therapy can be attended weekly and can help fill in the gaps when you can’t afford more regular individual appointments.

6. Networking and other resources

In group, people will often share about: other groups they attend, books they find helpful, which physicians are helpful and which are not, as well as coping skills they’ve attained. In even a small group, there are many years of combined knowledge into what is available out there.

7. Support animals

Some support groups have the added bonus of a support animal. The one I attend has a support dog, and this really makes me happy and comforted. If you attend a group and they don’t have one, it might be possible for you to request one.

8. Psycho-education

Most groups have elements of psycho-education; some more than others, but it’s usually part of the experience. This can vary from basic cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) work, worksheets to complete at home, or the discussion of particular topics (self-esteem, coping). Which again, is typically part of individual therapy, so for those who can’t afford that, this is a great bonus.

9. More sets of eyes

While this could sound scary to some, this is very important. It often takes others pointing out that you’re going downhill or perhaps even improving, before you can see it yourself. This can be valuable information for you personally, your physician, therapist, etc.

10. Special events

Holidays and other special events can often cause stress. Being able to go over these events before and after can help significantly reduce this stress. In a similar vein, some groups may choose to celebrate special events, members personal achievements, birthdays and so on. This can serve as some practice, the opportunity to get to know group members better and to be proud of yourself.

As you can see, there are many wonderful benefits to attending support groups and I’m sure there are many more I didn’t think of. It’s important to remember that each group is different, so if you don’t like one, try some others. You can find out what support groups are available in your area by searching online, asking your medical team, asking your therapist, or asking a friend. Give it a try! I hope it will help!

Getty image via KatarzynaBialasiewicz

Originally published: November 28, 2017
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