During one of our visits to California to see my family (when we still lived in Connecticut) my sister was talking about a couple she knew. She said to me, Oh, well you know Jerome, dont you? I said, Nooo, after mentally running through the list of people I had met on visits. She said, Well, he knows you. From The Well? You play online games together?
Oh, that Jerome, I responded. Of course I know him. Nice guy. Actually, despite knowing him for a few years, I had no idea what he looked like, although I could tell you what characters he played on our server in our online game. I think its possible that from 3,000 miles away I had hung out with Jerome as much as my sister had in person.
We often take for granted, after years of being on the Internet, how incredible it is to know someone youve never met in person. In the past it was possible to communicate with someone who you had never met face-to-face by phone or letter, but how would you meet them? How could you find others to share your interests? And obviously, neither of the aforementioned communication methods would work for a large group of people.
Until the Internet, peer support groups (as opposed to traditional support groups led by a mental health professional) were the only group self-help support available. They usually meet once a week or so in a community center of some kind. Theyre often a grassroots organization started by someone with a need to talk to others with the same experience.
I know many people who dont know where they would be today without those groups. However, there are barriers for other people that keep them from participating. It might be a physical issue: geographic distance for those who live in rural areas, being homebound or not having access to transportation. It could be difficult or impossible for someone, working parents or a caregiver for instance, to fit the group meeting into their schedule.
The barrier may be, for people with a mental illness, a legitimate fear of being seen attending a meeting. If a teacher is known to attend a meeting for people with depression, might it affect how he or she is perceived at work by staff and parents?