Depression Anonymous Groups: What They Are And How They Can Help

Medically reviewed by Majesty Purvis, LCMHC
Updated March 27, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Content warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention substance use-related topics that could be triggering to the reader. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance use, contact SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357). Support is available 24/7. Please see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.

If you’re living with depression and looking for help, you may have stumbled on groups like Depression Anonymous or the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance. But what are these organizations, and can they provide the support you need?

An organization like Depression Anonymous exists to support those living with depression. Peer support can help you develop strategies for improving your mental health and make you feel less alone. Depression Anonymous groups may not be for everyone, but many people find them helpful. 

This article will explore what a Depression Anonymous group is and how it can help.

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What is Depression Anonymous (and groups like it)?

Like Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-step groups, no single unifying organization links the various depression support groups. Instead, each local group is typically self-governing and run by members who have been through the program. It’s often possible to find online resources created by members that can point you toward meetings in your area or over the Internet. Their approach is usually rooted in the 12 Steps and 12 Traditions initially outlined by Alcoholics Anonymous.

In a typical 12-step meeting, participants gather to tell their experiences and discuss their efforts toward recovery. Members are encouraged to attend regularly, admit that they can’t overcome their challenges independently, and trust that engaging in the program will help them. Though this approach was created to help people with alcoholism, groups based on the same principles have emerged to assist with various other problems. 

Can Depression Anonymous groups help?

You might be skeptical that attending a self-help support group could alleviate your symptoms of depression. Research suggests peer support interventions result in greater improvements in depression symptoms than typical medically recommended treatment. Attending peer support groups also increases treatment conformity and improves outcomes.

Peer support is more than 12-step programs alone, and there has been relatively little research on how effective 12-step programs can be for depression. However, research has shown that 12-step programs for alcohol use may also reduce symptoms of depression.

Depression can be treated using the principles of 12-step programs. In a Depression Anonymous group, members can learn how to make positive lifestyle changes and cope with their symptoms. They may also find peer support in understanding the experiences of others living with depression and developing meaningful relationships with others who know what they are going through.

Depression Anonymous and similar groups may not work for everyone. People sometimes find engaging with the 12-step method difficult because it resembles religious groups too much. Several steps reference a higher power the participant should trust and rely on to relieve symptoms. Individuals may interpret this differently depending on their beliefs and background.

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Other types of support groups

If Depression Anonymous isn’t the right fit, many other peer support options are available. Some of them are available online, and some online sources also offer information about how to join in-person groups. Available resources include:

  • The Anxiety and Depression Association of America: This nonprofit group maintains an online database of virtual and local support groups.
  • Mental Health America: You can connect directly with other people experiencing depression or other mental health conditions through this organization’s website, and they also offer education programs for peer support specialists. 
  • Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance: This is another searchable database of community-based support groups
  • National Alliance on Mental Illness:Connection Recovery Support Groups are available through this nonprofit and are led by trained peers with experience living with mental health conditions, including depression. 

Why do support groups help with depression?

Though more research is likely needed to determine the key components behind the efficacy of support groups, there are several theories about why they can be helpful. Support groups can help you feel less isolated, find encouragement and inspiration from others with similar experiences, gain practical advice for coping with depression, and learn new strategies for managing your mental health condition. They can also provide a safe and supportive environment to discuss your feelings without fear of judgment or stigma openly.

Who can join a depression anonymous group?

A notable benefit of peer support groups for depression is their low barriers to entry. You do not need a medical diagnosis of a mental illness to attend meetings and receive support. Due to the growing popularity of online support groups, there's no need to participate in physical meetings in your area. 

Drawbacks of support groups for depression

Though peer support groups can benefit participants, there are also potential downsides. Some relate to the group's open, voluntary, and anonymous nature. There’s little way to screen out disruptive or antagonistic people; if the group is not well-managed, these people might derail the process for others. It’s also possible for emotional complications to arise between members, even if everyone is acting in good faith.

Depression support groups often comprise people with no medical or psychological training. Some may have medical professionals as group advisors, but this is not universal. There is no guarantee that any advice or information given in the group matches current clinical research on depression. 

Support groups are also limited in their effectiveness because they require self-directed attendance to be effective. While your peers may encourage you to attend, most groups are anonymous, so other members cannot reach you if you stop going. Attending in-person meetings may be a challenge for people experiencing symptoms of depression, such as fatigue or a lack of motivation.

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Combining peer support with other treatments for depression

Depression can be effectively treated by combining peer support with therapy. You can still attend Depression Anonymous while pursuing other treatment options. Peer support can be a significant source of encouragement for some people.

Psychologists, psychiatrists, and counselors can offer some benefits that support groups may not. A trained mental health professional can help you develop a treatment plan tailored to your needs. Current evidence suggests that psychotherapy is one of the best treatments for depression and can enhance the effectiveness of other treatments.

Online therapy for depression

If your struggles with depression make looking for a therapist difficult, you may want to consider online therapy. Attending therapy online is often easier than commuting to in-person sessions. Online treatment can also be reached from anywhere with an internet connection, making it convenient and available.

A growing body of evidence suggests that online therapy can be effective at treating symptoms of depression. Studies have found that online treatments can reduce depression symptoms to the same degree as traditional face-to-face therapy.

Counselor reviews

Here are a few reviews from people who’ve reached out to BetterHelp:

“Virginia is a very helpful counselor. She listens and gives helpful advice. She offers support while giving beneficial suggestions to combat my depression. I would recommend her to anyone wanting additional support or a listening ear. I told her what I was looking for in a counselor, and she gave me just that.”

“Mar is awesome! After many failed attempts at connecting with different therapists, I am relieved to find a queer therapist who understands where I’m coming from. They are so thoughtful and gentle in the ways they listen and guide conversations. They have a way about them that effortlessly encourages you to be kinder to yourself, leading by example. They seem to really tune in with what you need as an individual and work with you on whatever that may be. Highly recommend!”

Takeaway

Peer support groups such as Depression Anonymous can provide a robust community of peers familiar with the difficulties of living with depression. This support proves extremely helpful for many people dealing with this condition, and research shows that it can substantially relieve symptoms. It’s also easy and often beneficial to combine psychotherapy with support group attendance, potentially enhancing both types of treatment.
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