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The benefits of joining a support group for your mental health

Support groups can be an excellent addition to your self care routine

The idea of support groups or group therapy can be intimidating for some. However, a study published by Mental Health And Social Inclusion[1] found that there is scientifically rigorous evidence[2] showing that, over long periods of time, professionally and peer facilitated support groups are very effective in the treatment and maintenance of various mental health difficulties. Many people find that once they get a feel for the dynamics of a group the benefits are invaluable, and their apprehension dissolves.

 

What is a support group?

A support group is a facilitated assembly of people who share common experiences or concerns. Typically, members of the group will provide each other with support, encouragement, advice and comfort. Common groups include addiction support groups and support groups for specific mental illnesses and difficulties including depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, grief and eating disorders. There are also groups designed to offer a supportive space for friends, family and carers of people experiencing mental health difficulties. Many groups are professionally facilitated by psychotherapists or psychologists, however, many are led by peers aka. Individuals who are also in recovery or have experience of the specific topic.

Many General Practitioners and mental health professionals will recommend support groups as a component of recovery, coping or treatment. Often it is recommended in place of or alongside personal therapy depending on the client’s situation.

photo of people in a support group

The Benefits of Joining a support group for your mental health

 

  1. Seeing that you’re not alone

Experiencing mental illness or mental health difficulty can be an isolating and lonely experience, as can addressing the illness or difficulty. One-to-One therapy sessions, journaling and other aspects of confronting mental health difficulties are generally solo activities and often it can feel like you are the only person going through it. Group support gives you the opportunity to hear other people’s experiences. This helps you to realise that you are not alone in how you feel, bringing a great sense of relief and comfort.

 

  1. Catharsis

 Once you realise you are not alone in your feelings you might find it easier to speak about your experiences. This can lead to catharsis[3], an emotional release experienced when you voice your feelings, something you may not have felt comfortable doing before. This can be rewarding and it can motivate you to continue opening up as fellow group members encourage you and congratulate you for sharing.

 

  1. Learning and understanding

A support group for your mental health can provide plenty of tips and resources from people sharing their stories and the strategies that have helped them cope. Some support groups, such as Dialectic Behavioural Therapy groups, focus on specific coping skills that can you use every day. You may also have an opportunity to learn about books, websites and other useful resources through the group members and facilitators. Further more, listening to others can help you to better understand the difficulties you have been facing which will help you to get a strong footing for your self care.

 

  1. Hope

 When confronting mental health difficulties one of the most valuable things to have is hope. That is certainly something that can be gained from attending a support group. Hearing other people’s success stories can help you to realise that things can improve for you. Seeing other people making strides in recovery or management of a particular difficulty can show you that the same is attainable for you. That is a very powerful thing.

 

  1. Self-acceptance

The more coping skills you develop and the more you talk about your experiences and listen to others’, the more you will understand yourself. When you begin to better understand the root causes of some of your behaviours and difficulties, and when you realise that you are not the only person with these experiences, you will learn to accept your self. Self-acceptance has an enormously important role to play in taking care of our mental health.

people siting in a circle

  1. Helping others

The longer you attend support groups, you will become one of the positive stories. New attendees will gain hope, learning and understanding as well as self-acceptance through listening to your story and how you have learned to take care of your mental health. This can be a rewarding experience. Evidence shows that helping others can benefit also benefit your own mental health, reducing stress and improving your self-esteem[4]. This is one of the reasons continued attendance of group sessions is encouraged; it is a continually beneficial experience.

 

  1. Affordability

One key reason why many people choose to attend a support group for mental health is because it is more affordable than personal therapy. Of course, personal therapy has it’s own benefits and in many cases cannot be substituted, but it is a fantastic alternative, or indeed accompaniment, to one-to-one therapy.

 

If you have been apprehensive about the idea of attending a support group for your mental health, we hope this information has set your concerns at ease. Group therapy and support groups are proven, effective modes of self care for mental health with benefits that reach beyond the obvious. They are more than worth considering if you are need of support.

These stories are not treatment advice. Every story is unique and the writers speak only for themselves, including what worked or didn’t work for them. Talk to your doctor or a mental health professional if you are concerned about symptoms you experience or if you would like to explore different treatment option.

By Claire Kane; Content Professional, Mental Health Advocate and Ambassador for See Change 

 

[1] https://www.emerald.com/insight/publication/issn/2042-8308

[2] https://www.emerald.com/insight/content/doi/10.1108/MHSI-12-2017-0055/full/html

[3] https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-catharsis-2794968

[4] https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/campaigns/kindness/kindness-matters-guide

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