Everybody talks about how they need support, but comparatively few people are involved in support groups. They take extra effort to find, extra effort to go to, and extra effort to participate in. Many people find them too much of a pain and decide that they can make it by themselves. They tell themselves they are doing good enough and they don’t need one.
But life is meant to be shared. Recovery is not simply what you do to yourself. It is as much what you do with others as anything. If you don’t do anything with others the odds are you really haven’t done much.
When support groups work they do several different things:
They provide education. Knowledge is essential to recovery, because without it you can never acquire any mastery over your life. A primary role of support groups is to help its members develop a frame of reference based on facts from which to improve their life.
Getting support. Getting support from people who walk in the shoes you walk is so important. It encourages you and tells you that what feels impossible may not be. It helps you to put things in perspective when your perspective is not very good. It gives you a way to calibrate your life- to compare what you are doing to some standard of what others have done and found helpful. It is like a thermometer. It allows you to take the temperature of your recovery.
Give support- Everyone needs to feel like they matter to someone else. Support groups give you a chance to help others. You get more by giving than any other way. Self- obsession is the enemy of a better life. By giving to others you become grateful for what you have and begin to appreciate what you get more.
Advocacy- Learning to advocate for themselves and for others with mental health issues is very important to recovery. Issues like stigma and access to treatment are critical to the future of an improved life. Advocacy is a great way to say to yourself and to others that your mental health issues are not and should not be a matter of shame or guilt to you.
How do you know if you are part of a group that really means something? A caring and effective group has the following characteristics. It is a place where where you:
Can share true feelings.
Encourage each other.
Support each other.
Forgive each other.
Be honest with each other.
Respect each other’s differences
Make group membership a priority
Support groups come in all shapes and sizes. There are groups like the DBSA (of which Hopeworks is part), Nami and other face to face groups. There are internet based groups all over the web. My personal recommendation is that you get involved in more than one place and try to find a safe and productive place to help you in improving the quality of life. The research evidence is clear. People involved with support groups do better than those who don’t.
There are many conditions of recovery. None are sufficient of themselves. I hope you will look at the possibility of support group involvement in your life.