Depression is characterized by recurrent and persistent symptoms that can interfere with accomplishing daily tasks and having healthy relationships. People with depressive disorders may hesitate to reach out for support because of the stigma associated with a mental illness. For those struggling with reaching out, support groups can be a valuable resource to meet with others experiencing depression.
When you join a support group, you can learn how other people cope with their symptoms, confer resources about depression, and develop coping strategies that promote healing. To understand whether support groups would be an effective choice for you, looking at how these resources function and how they differ from group therapy can be beneficial.
How Do Depression Support Groups Work?
Major depressive disorder (MDD) can involve a desire to socially isolate oneself from others, often due to a persistent feeling of sadness or hopelessness, alongside thoughts that one is not enough for others.
Some support groups are led by a counselor. However, free support groups are often led by a peer moderator or facilitator with experience living with depression. A depression support group is focused on offering support to those who suspect they may have depression or have been diagnosed with depression.
If your loved ones want to be a part of your mental health journey, there may also be separate groups for family and friends of those with depression. However, support groups geared toward supporting people with depression often aim to build a circle of trust that allows people to open up and confer without judgment.
What To Look For In A Depression Support Group
Depression support groups vary by location, so it can be crucial to seek one that suits your preferences and mental health goals. Below are a few characteristics to consider when looking for a high-quality support group.
Groups Led By A Professional
When seeking a support group, you can decide what type of leader or moderator you want. In some cases, support groups are led by a licensed therapist. However, licensed therapists may be more likely to practice group therapy, which differs from a support group. Group therapy often has a cost, a determined number of sessions, and structured goals for sessions. Support groups are peer-oriented, free, and focused on open sharing and support.
When a qualified individual leads a support group, you may feel you can trust the group structure. Other participants in the group may have coping mechanisms that seem to work for them, but their tips may not be healthy for you under certain circumstances. Having a therapist lead the group can offer professional skills and peer-offered suggestions.
However, if you join a support group led by a peer or mental health expert that is not a therapist, you may still find value. Some groups operate on a "share what you need" premise, allowing each group member to talk about their current life events and symptoms for two to five minutes. After sharing, the rest of the group may offer validation or insight to the member, not acting as experts but acting as friends or supportive peers.
It may be helpful to join a group that offers a sense of structure so discussions stay healthy and on track. For example, it may be acceptable to discuss how depression affects your relationship with your spouse. However, discussing unrelated topics like pet care or how to start a business may not be effective. If distracted, a professional moderator is trained to steer group discussions back to useful topics. This structure allows the group mindset to remain focused on conversations about depression and positive coping mechanisms.
A Healthy Social Environment
Going into a social support group can feel overwhelming for people who have not done it before. You might worry that the other members will judge or treat you unkindly. When looking for a group, you might test a few options before committing to one. Look at how the other group members interact with each other and whether the moderators commit to reducing discrimination or judgments from certain members. In addition, try to find a group that isn't focused on labeling each group member's experiences or forcing them to believe in a certain idea. A neutral support group that focuses on seeing the shared humanity in each other may be more beneficial than arguing about labels or opinions.
How To Find The Right Group For You
You may have several options when choosing a depression support group. If your therapist or psychiatrist recommended a specific group, you may be drawn to attending the one suggested. You can also try an internet search for "depression support groups near me" or speak with your local church community or community center, which may have support resources available.
You might also find depression support groups through referrals from friends and family. However, consider not attending the same group as someone you know to maintain their privacy and feel more comfortable vulnerably sharing your symptoms. You can decide by considering how comfortable you are with having familiar faces at your group sessions.
Are Internet Support Groups Effective?
Internet support groups may provide a safe space to share stories and mutual support with peers living through a similar experience. When you attend a group online, you can do so from an environment you're familiar with, such as your home or office.
If you live in a rural area, finding a depression support group may be difficult. You might know people from groups available or struggle to find one that meets your needs. In these cases, an online support group could offer a more diverse group of people to speak to. In addition, online support groups may be free and accessible for those with financial insecurities or accessibility needs.
What Types Of Internet Support Groups Are Available?
There are different types of online support groups, including live telehealth group therapy sessions and support forums that primarily use chat to communicate. An internet support group works similarly to in-person support groups, often led by a moderator or someone with a similar mental health diagnosis.
Keep in mind that professionals may not monitor depression support forums. They do not replace the advice of a licensed professional and are not a form of online therapy, but they may benefit your mental health.
Are Online Support Groups Effective?
Studies have found that internet support groups can be effective in relieving symptoms of depression. These studies also show that many people who opt for online depression support participate in these groups for up to five hours per week, which may be more time than they could spend in an in-person group.
How To Make The Most Of An Internet Support Group
When looking for an online depression support group, look for the same elements you would look for in an in-person group. In addition, consider the following tips.
Try Multiple Groups
If you attend a group that does not seem suitable, try not to give up. Each group can offer different benefits. When you first attend a group meeting, you may not like the group's energy or feel comfortable with the leader. You may also struggle to trust the participants if they all have strong connections with each other. Give the group a chance, but try not to push yourself. If you want to try a different group, consider attending an initial meeting at multiple groups to find the one you feel most comfortable in.
Participate When You Are Ready
Try not to feel pressured to participate immediately. When you are new, you might want to sit back and listen for a while to absorb the information that is being presented. Once you feel comfortable adding something to the conversation, you can speak. Some people attend multiple sessions before participating, while others may sit back and listen to gain further insights into their own mental health. You might be asked to introduce yourself during your first meeting, so prepare for this beforehand if you're nervous about speaking. You can also contact the group facilitator to let them know you'd prefer not to talk at first so they don't call on you to speak.
Consider Online Therapy
Online support groups can be effective resources for getting to know others with depression. However, they may not be led by a licensed professional and can't offer one-on-one support. In these cases, you can continue to get online support by signing up for an online therapy platform like BetterHelp.
Research shows that online therapy platforms can be effective for people with depression. In a study published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, the effects of online counseling on symptoms of depression and anxiety were examined. Treatment was in the form of a 12-week online cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) program with the goal of reducing symptoms within nine months. Researchers found that the program successfully reduced depression symptoms in participants at a nine-month follow-up.
If your depression makes it difficult to get out of the house, or if you have financial constraints, online therapy can allow you to receive cost-effective and convenient care from home. A licensed counselor can help you determine if a support group is right for you as they guide you through personalized coping exercises and support.
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