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How Community Support Groups Can Ease the Isolation of Mental Illness

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Example: Editor’s note: This story has been published with permission from Joshua Martin of The Happiness Project. 

Recently, I discovered a group in my local area, The Happiness Project, that aims to provide support and friendship to those struggling with mental illness. Intrigued, I got in touch with the man who leads the group, Joshua Martin, and asked if he’d mind chatting with me about the purpose of the organization and how peer networks can help people who find themselves in a dark place. I have previously written about the importance of these groups to mental health recovery, but I wanted to ask him why he felt it was important for himself to get involved hands-on and how starting his own support group has helped him cope with his depression.

Here are Joshua’s responses to a few questions I asked him:

What is The Happiness Project?

“I began The Happiness Project as a platform to organize social events and provide peer support to those struggling with mental illness. In safe, calm environments, I plan to give people who may be experiencing isolation or loneliness the opportunity to socialize and meet others with similar experiences. This network of support for people who may be struggling will be an important means of starting to eradicate some of the stigma and isolation attached to mental illness. I have great hopes for where this could lead; beginning with twice monthly support groups, I aim to then offer a range of social events from board games to brunch, to coffee or conversation, allowing people to speak openly and freely about their experiences and struggles. The Happiness Project isn’t here to tell you how to live your life, but merely a platform from which we can open up candid discussions around mental illness and eradicate the taboo associated with it.”

What made you want to start this project?

“Throughout my own longstanding battle with depression, one which led me to numerous suicide attempts and eventually being sectioned, I found myself feeling stuck and frustrated with the mental health services in my area. I was often met with impersonal treatment, being handed nothing more than medication and an extensive wait for subpar counseling. In fact, it was 7 long years before I was even diagnosed officially and around 5 further years for me to be subsequently treated with professional psychology. This opened my eyes to the failures of our mental health services and made me wonder just how many people like myself had been isolated and struggling along without any real means of support. My battle with mental illness was the darkest period in my life, one that I fought entirely by myself. I wanted to make a difference, help others who might be experiencing that same feeling of loneliness, so I started The Happiness Project.”

What is the message you want to get across through The Happiness Project?

“Mental health problems still have an enormous amount of stigma attached to them and opening up about your own struggles can be tremendously frightening. Not everybody understands that mental illness is as much of a choice as a broken bone, and I wanted all people to know that inner strength is not in hiding your feelings and problems but in opening up about them and facing them head-on. One in four people are affected by mental illness – that makes it more than likely that somebody you know is struggling and they may be afraid to say so. Through the Happiness Project, I want people to truly know that they are not alone – there is support there for people struggling. People affected by mental illness do not have to go through it alone. Together, we can face it and help one another find strength.”

What would you say to people who feel afraid to reach out?

“I think one of the worst parts about struggling with a mental illness is the way that it makes your own brain rebel against you. You may feel like you don’t deserve help or that there’s nothing anyone can do to help you feel better – this is the insidious voice of mental illness. You absolutely do deserve help and I truly believe that everybody can recover, no matter how long the road or difficult the journey. You might feel scared about opening up to a group of relative strangers, but I would encourage everyone to at least give it a try because real connections and the support that stems from them can be so healing.”

How can I find similar groups in my local area?

“I predominantly promote The Happiness Project using Facebook and other social media platforms. In the modern age, these tools are indispensable for groups like mine that are just starting to get off the ground, so spending some time searching around on social media may help you to find local peer support groups for those struggling with mental illness. Additionally, local councils often advertise events in the local area online and in public buildings, like town halls and libraries, so spending some time perusing such advertisements may prove fruitful in finding peer support. Doctors and other professionals also tend to have links with local charities and groups aiming to take pressure off mental health services and will be able to either refer you or point you in the right direction to such aid. These nonprofits can be life altering. It is always worth giving them a shot because the eradication of isolation and loneliness in itself can be a great first step in recovery.”

How can people get involved?

“Nonprofit organizations are usually always looking for volunteers. Helping out can be a great aid in recovery because it is often in helping others through acts of kindness and generosity that we make ourselves feel better. Reaching out to your local group and asking if there’s anything they need in the way of help or resources is a good idea if you are looking to get involved. The Happiness Project is always looking for people who can provide resources, spaces, administrative help or peer support and generally, other groups often need the same.”

From my conversation with Joshua, I realized the immense amount of pressure that mental health services are under and how imperative these sorts of networks can be for providing support and help for those struggling with mental illness. The isolation associated with mental health problems can be the greatest obstacle in initially seeking help. Recovery is a long journey, but the importance of groups like The Happiness Project that provide support and social interaction cannot be overstated.

Social events are not to everybody’s tastes, but what I learned from this discussion is that everything is worth a shot when it comes to recovering from mental illness and local community groups may be able to provide interim support while you wait for more intensive professional services. We all deserve to feel better. Supporting each other within our local communities is a great start in fighting the stigma attached to mental illness.

Follow The Happiness Project here

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “HOME” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

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Thinkstock photo via Andrew Hobbs

Originally published: August 22, 2017
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