According to Mental Health America, a national mental health advocacy organization, over 40 million Americans suffer from some type of mental health condition. Receiving hospitalization and medical care is often arduous and expensive. However, those suffering from mental health disorders have a means of receiving support and care that can help them get through the process of treatment and recovery: mental health support groups.
Benefits of Mental Health Support Groups
Because of the stigma still associated with having a mental illness or condition, sufferers often attempt to keep their symptoms or diagnoses hidden. This unfortunately limits their willingness to get help. However, being involved in a support group for those suffering from or experiencing similar conditions or situations could actually make the difference between being a long-term sufferer and achieving improvement. There are many reasons support groups can prove beneficial:
- Confidentiality: Unlike hospitals or treatment centers, support groups can afford the sufferer a much greater degree of privacy. If they choose to participate, they can do so on their own without the phone calls, tests, bills and expenses that accompany treatment at other institutions. They also almost always operate under a strict code of confidentiality; what is said in the group must stay in the group.
- Few taboos: One of the worst deterrents of people getting the support or treatment they need is their fear of judgement or alienation from their peers, friends, or family. Support groups can provide a safe alternative. Groups can also provide a safe environment to address issues or topics that would be difficult to talk about elsewhere.
- Networking with like individuals: Support communities offer the chance to build relationships with those who experience similar problems or difficulties. These relationships can aid the healing or recovery process as well as build a network of like-minded people who can support each other. They can often also aid in connecting attendees with vocational and housing resources.
- Participate at will: Unlike more all-encompassing homes, treatment centers or hospitals that require admittance and require a limitation of the patient’s schedule and liberties to complete the treatment plan or program, support groups offer a much more voluntary option that can fit into one’s schedule the way an extracurricular activity would. This distinction alone affords support groups a much more powerful healing component as people are there because they want to be, not because they are forced.
- Self-care skills and coping strategies: Support groups allow the attendee to receive support and help from trained professionals and from empathetic peers rather than their circles of friends or family, who could be well-meaning but are almost always ill-equipped to know how best to help. Support groups can equip mental health sufferers with advice, suggestions for treatment, and ways to deal with the disorder on their own that they may not receive from a more conventional hospital or mental institution.
- Varied groups: Support groups can be found in many different types, specializations, locations and sizes.
What Kinds of Mental Health Groups are Available?
Mental health support groups can be available in almost every shape, size, type and structure imaginable. Groups range from those facilitated in psychiatric hospitals to programs sponsored by outpatient facilities, put on by community centers or provided by local nonprofits. Peer groups can be specifically geared towards certain demographics (i.e. a group for survivors of attempted suicide or for those diagnosed with particular disorders) or they may cater to a broad range of mental health sufferers.
Many nonprofit organizations exist in the United States to promote mental health, fight for patient rights, and facilitate care groups. Here are just a few prominent examples:
- International Association of Peer Supporters (iNAPS): iNAPS is a nonprofit organization that helps promote peer support groups. iNAPS boasts members from every state in the U.S. in addition to an increasing international constituency. They offer membership benefits, put on an annual conference on peer support and provide educational resources for those interested or involved in peer support for mental health conditions.
- National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI): Self-described as the “Nation’s leading voice on mental health,” NAMI offers a number of services to those struggling with mental health (and to caretakers as well) including local chapters, discussion groups, legislative advocacy and a 24-hour hotline and texting number for those in crisis.
- Mental Health America (MHA): MHA was founded in 1909 for the purpose of “addressing the needs of those living with mental illness and… promoting the overall mental health of all Americans.” The organization facilitates advocacy, support groups, treatment programs and more.
Mental illnesses can be intimidating, difficult and even life-threatening. However, advocates and support networks are available to those who suffer from mental illnesses. Choosing to be involved in a mental health support group could change one’s entire life and greatly enhance the road to recovery. As this practice becomes more prevalent, legal professionals must stay up to date on the legal ramifications as consultants to mental health groups and/or of clients taking part in mental health groups.
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U.S. News and World Report
international Association of Peer Supporters
Mental Health America – About Us
Mental Health America – The State of Mental Health in America
National Alliance on Mental Illness