No matter what challenges you are facing — cancer, caregiving, addiction, behavior disorders and many more — there are local and online support groups where you can talk to people who understand. Those who are struggling with similar situations, others who have found ways to cope, and professionals who often facilitate meetings can all provide a shelter where you can express your honest thoughts, hear what has worked for those around you, and find compassion and strength in the words of other people.
Look for safety.
Gatherings sponsored by reliable organizations will emphasize confidentiality and respect for all members. Usually, there are rules that keep one person from monopolizing the time and also allow for breaks. Facilitators, professional or peer, are there to help conversation run smoothly, not necessarily to give advice, unless there is a special informational topic. Just talking can ease the burdens you carry.
Schedules vary, and meetings are held in community centers, hospitals, churches, and other places. It is okay to telephone the contact person before you visit if you would like to ask questions or get an idea of what the group is like.
Most support groups are offered free of charge to participants. Many are for adults, but some — like those at The Link Counseling Center in Sandy Springs, Georgia — include specific groups for children and teens among their programs. Other grief groups may be general or divided by type of loss (spouse/partner; child, for example).
Look for what you need.
You may live in a rural area with few opportunities for this type of support. If so, consider an active online group. Open chat or forums that work much like message boards create communities where members get to know each other even if they keep their real identity secret. Giving too many details, posting pictures or including other identifying information are not good ideas online. Forums are open 24/7/365, and members will answer whenever they can. Check to see when the most recent posts were made to get an idea of how active the group is.
Your needs are also unique. Ask your health care provider, local hospital or mental health center for recommendations. Many medical centers provide community education for supporting those with diabetes and other health problems, as well as exercise programs though some of these may have an associated cost.
Look for nonprofits.
One example is the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Search their national website for local chapters. These meetings, usually monthly, offer tons of information about mental illnesses, medications, and related issues.
Their education programs range from help for parents taking care of those younger than 22 with mental conditions to a 12-week course (also in Spanish) for family members and friends. There is advice for and help with understanding those in the military who struggle and also specific information for law enforcement and other first responders.
Adults with mental illnesses or behavior disorders can find practical suggestions for coping in today’s world, whether related to self-care, handling jobs, or social interaction with family and friends. NAMI encourages advocacy and helps address legal issues and legislation while seeking to comfort individuals and families.
Look for resources.
At meetings, you might find books, informational pamphlets, activities and other local resources or events that could help you. Ask questions. Listen. Sometimes, a topic may be suggested, but most of the time, the group members take the conversation where they need it to go.
If you want to attend but are not ready to talk about yourself or your situation yet, it is normally fine just to listen until you feel more comfortable. Emotions can sometimes cause people (including you) to feel embarrassed, but that is just a feeling. Thoughts and feelings are often not truth. Some are based in negative comments heard from other people; some come from fears that can be handled. Change is possible. A support group meeting is one of the few places where people really do understand because they can relate to you. They’ve been there, too.
Never be ashamed of seeking help. If you do not find what you need in one group, try a different one. But plan to attend a few times first to see what the group is really about and how it works.
Stepping out like this does take courage, and that is something you can find within yourself. If you have a friend or family member who would go with you, that is an option. But you will soon feel a warm and friendly welcome when you walk through the door. Finding the right support group is a lot like finding new family members, new friends who will assist you in what you are trying to do.
It is easy to be your own self-critic. The interesting thing about that concept is we are often much harder on ourselves than we would be on friends or family members in the same situation. Remembering that can make joining a support group easier. Be open to shifts in your perspective.
Life is so full of stress and unexpected obstacles that everyone probably needs a good support group at one time or another. You are making your life better; that is a very worthy goal. Be your own advocate, and find your way through the problems you face.
Take all of the help you can find.