How Mental Health Support Groups Transformed My Treatment

Patient Expert

Individual counseling sessions with the right therapist can be an important tool for recovery. I believe that mental health support groups are equally important.

Mental health support groups became increasingly popular in the 1970s through the mental health consumer movement. This movement gained momentum in conjunction with other civil rights movements of that period, and empowered people who lived with mental health challenges to innovate ways to help and advocate for each other.

Participating in a mental health support group is entirely voluntary. The focus of most groups is to find better ways to cope with mental health challenges and find emotional sobriety. In some groups, the leadership is member based, and in others, a counselor or other mental health professional is at the helm.

In the past year, I have begun participating in a support group to supplement my weekly appointments with my therapist. It all started when I had a horrible mental health breakdown earlier in the year. That breakdown was rock bottom for me.

It was clear that I needed to make some drastic changes. Weekly appointments with my therapist weren’t enough to keep me stable. I decided to add a psychiatrist to the mix, along with medication and finding a support group.

Before this year, I had tried several support groups. Some of them were helpful, and some were a complete waste of time. Regardless, I was open to giving them a new chance.

The first step was to attend a few different ones and get a feel for the people, the energy, and how I felt afterward. After trying several, I decided to focus on one that felt right to me. I was also comforted by the fact that I knew some people struggles similar to mine who got some life-changing benefits from this particular support group.

Regularly attending this particular support group has added a new momentum to my recovery. I believe this for a few reasons:

  • Positive peer pressure. I am surrounding myself with people who are further along in their recovery, have learned to manage their emotions, and apply coping skills consistently.

  • Peer support. When my depression and anxiety are in high gear, I know that I have people I can reach out to who will listen with an open heart, understand what I am going through, and offer me constructive feedback.

  • Accountability. Making promises and commitments to myself is one thing. Sharing these promises and commitments with someone else takes things to a whole new level.

Through attending my mental health support group, I have also seen better results in the sessions with my therapist and my psychiatrist. It has helped me become more brutally honest, in touch with my feelings, and aware of my behavior.

David Susman Ph.D., writes that support groups have nine benefits:

  1. They help you actually realize that you are not alone

  2. They offer you a safe place to express your feelings

  3. They are a resource for helpful information

  4. They help you develop your social skills

  5. They give you a sense of hope

  6. They reduce stress

  7. They help you become more aware and understand yourself

  8. They give you an opportunity to help others

  9. They are affordable

“This is why I loved the support groups so much, if people thought you were dying, they gave you their full attention. If this might be the last time they saw you, they really saw you. Everything else about their checkbook balance and radio songs and messy hair went out the window. You had their full attention. People listened instead of just waiting for their turn to speak. And when they spoke, they weren't just telling you a story. When the two of you talked, you were building something, and afterward you were both different than before.”

— Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club