SUPPORT GROUPS | May 18

What to Look For in a Support Group for Mental Health 

Brianna Valleskey

So you want to join a support group - awesome! Support groups have numerous benefits, and we here at Stigma are a big fan of them. Across the board, support groups are significantly correlated with positive effects like increased coping skills and health outcomes.

If you’re not sure how to find a support group for mental health, this is a good place to start. But more importantly, you should understand what to look for in a support group for mental health. Any group of people can join together and share feelings, experiences and ideas. But without the right foundation, that peer support may not turn out as well as intended. Here’s what to look for in a support group group for mental health.

What to look for in a support group for mental health

Fosters Positivity

Support groups should be beneficial to your well-being. This can mean connecting with others who understand your struggle, decreasing stress and loneliness, or even feeling better about yourself in general. HeretoHelp, a website run by a group of seven leading mental health and addictions nonprofits, offers a helpful checklist to determine whether a support group you’ve attended is a good fit for you. The list includes a list of statements that you can mark as true or false, such as …  

I feel supported by other group members

I receive encouragement from other group members

The group has helped me learn more about my disorder

I feel better after attending a meeting.

Click here to read the full list. If you feel that most (or all) of the statements from the full list are true for you, then you’ve likely found a positive support group fit.

Well-Moderated

Estimates show that 37 million people use the Internet to seek health-related information. But be cautious with the forums or online support groups you trust. In groups that are unmoderated, members can share erroneous, misleading or even harmful information with each other. This could be potentially harmful, as research shows people tend to believe information received by word of mouth over information received through more legitimate sources.

Opt for support groups with strong leadership or trusted moderation. Resources from the Wichita State University’s Community Engagement Institute explain that support group leadership structures range from highly organized to informal. Leadership and moderation should exists for the purpose of encouraging sharing and self-help within support groups, as well as preventing negative interactions and experiences. Whether that comes in the form of a well-moderated support group app or community meeting is up to you.

Facilitates Quality Conversations

The WSU Community Engagement Institute also cites sharing as a key element of support groups. Sharing your struggles, experiences and insights creates an atmosphere of openness and togetherness, according to the institute’s resources, in addition to forming a cohesive group.

Be cognizant of how things are shared within a support group. Take note of the conversations that happen during and after a member shares their thoughts. Do people say positive things and bring helpful ideas and strategies to the conversation? Are they supportive of everyone’s feelings and experiences? You don’t want to be part of a group that only focuses on problems or negative outlooks. Support groups should generate quality conversations so that members gain something from them.

Accessible

Many support groups have regularly scheduled meetings, but that doesn’t always jive with life events and emotional availability. Some nights, you may simply want to be an active listener rather than contribute. Look for groups with flexible attendance and participation.

Online support groups remove a lot of traditional barriers like location and timing, so it really boils down to what you’re most comfortable with. But the best support groups, according to U.S. News & World Report, will allow you to show up when it’s right - regardless if there’s a regular meeting schedule. They allow you the flexibility you need, but are always there when you want.

Engaged Community

Support groups tend to go through a series of stages before reaching maturity, according to the Self Help Alliance. Be conscious of this as you search for the one that’s right for you. In newer support groups or networks, people will be getting to know each other and trying to establish trust. That’s not always an easy process. You may find that many members don’t participate or stop showing up.

Established sources of support groups will have engaged communities, and likely also a reliable processes for forming and maintaining groups. Many digital support groups include conversation prompts to encourage member participation.

Creates Intimacy

As WebMD explains, support groups should help you understand that you aren’t alone. They allow you to connect with others who experience similar struggles, even though they may come from diverse backgrounds.

The key is that you should be able to connect with your fellow group members. When observing a support group, see if the members build relationships and rapport with each other. Even if you’re anonymously matched via an online support group, you can still build intimacy with the people on the other end of the Internet connection.

Privacy & Trust

Trust is an essential for any support group, as members often share experiences that are painful or private. This may not be as much of a concern for in-person meetings as it is for online groups, as information you share online or via the web could be at risk.

According to the Pew Research Center, 18% of online adults have had important personal information stolen, and 21% have had an email or social networking account compromised. Ensure that the support group you join either has guidelines about privacy or is a trusted and verified support group network.  

Well-Suited To Your Lifestyle

Most importantly, focus on the support group outlets that you jive with. What feels right to you? There are likely many options for support groups that you haven’t considered yet, such as an app-based support group. Stigma is the highest rated app for improving mental health and finding peer support. Stigma’s supportive community allows anyone, anywhere to connect with PenPals and Support Groups. It also meets all of the criteria mentioned above.

Stigma anonymously matches you with a small group of compassionate and supportive peers close to your age. In these support groups, users message each other and respond to thoughtful prompts. But Stigma also keeps you protected. Users can report abusive people, who are immediately removed. The team here at Stigma is very active and quick to react. They respond to requests and feedback within 24-48 hours, although it’s typically as fast as under four hours.

For one-on-one peer support, you can browse and match with PenPals to have more intimate discussions. Stigma encourages quality communication through conversation prompts. And you can be sure that your information stays private (but you do have the option to share updates via Stigma with friends and family if you so choose).

Hundreds of thousands of people are already using Stigma not only for support groups, but also to track their daily moods and write quick journal entries. The all-in-one wellness approach makes managing mental health a much more accessible and enjoyable process.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE