Today there are many support groups to help people with specific health issues or those caring for them. Each group will be run differently and services offered will depend on the members' needs. The friendship and activities provided by a support group can make people feel less isolated and reduce stress.
Paper doll image from Pixabay with title added by author
Belonging to a support group allows members to express any feelings of depression, frustration, anger, fear, confusion or guilt in an environment where they are understood. The empathy of other group members can be validating and lead to the formation of strong friendships.
Types of support groups Support groups exist for many conditions including mental health issues, Parkinson's disease, diabetes, cancer, eating disorders, parenting, infertility, stroke and dementia to name a few.
Groups may be run by a professional, a peer worker with lived experience of the condition, or by the members themselves. Some groups are mainly for socialisation, but many provide education sessions aimed at empowering members. Speakers may be invited to provide information about the condition, available services, budgetting and financial advice, self-care strategies and management skills.
There are also groups for people who care for a family member or friend. These give carers the opportunity to increase their knowledge and socialise with others in a similar situation.
Carer groups sometimes arrange for and perhaps cover the cost of respite to make it possible for the carer to attend meetings, outings, information sessions and camps. These activities give carers time away from their usual responsibilities and provide them an opportunity to 'recharge their batteries.'
As well as face to face meetings, there are various online support groups. These can be useful for people living in a geographically isolated location and those who find it difficult to leave the house. The support may include blogs, discussion boards and chat rooms. In addition there are Facebook and telephone support groups which can have their place in helping individuals feel more connected.
There is a wide variety of support groups Image by Marie Vonow
How to find a support group Many support groups are listed on the internet and some are advertised through a doctor's surgery, hospital or a school newsletter. Sometimes local groups have posters in shop windows or on community notice boards. I found out about a support group when I picked up a brochure at the library.
Posters are sometimes found on shop windows. Image by Marie Vonow
Health benefits of a support group A support group helps members realise they are not alone in whatever challenges they are facing. It is beneficial for them to be able to share their experiences with others who understand their feelings.
Members can often exchange information about local services and supports they have found useful in addition to getting information from talks given by professionals and service providers. This helps members make better informed decisions and manage their condition more effectively.
There is the opportunity to make new friends and develop social networks. People with strong social networks generally enjoy better health than those who are isolated. Even if someone has poor health due to a condition or disability, having social support will be of benefit.
Social connections increase an individual's self confidence and sense of belonging. They can motivate one to adopt a more healthy lifestyle. Studies have found those with a network of friends are more likely to exercise regularly, eat better and have more success with giving up smoking. Having a network of support helps an individual cope with life's general trauma and grief as well as that which may come with a health condition or being a carer.
Research has found those with good social connections are likely to sleep better, be happier and live longer. Having a support network helps lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels and lessens the likelihood of developing diabetes. A Swedish study of over 13,600 people showed having no or few close friends increases the risk of a first time heart attack by 50%.
According to a study reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association people with a good social network are less prone to getting colds. Results from a study written up in the American Journal of Public Health show they are also 43% less likely to develop dementia in later life.
There are many benefits of having a positive social network and belonging to a support group can help build those connections. The friendship, knowledge and handy hints gained from a support group can help you manage a health condition, reduce stress and strengthen your general health. Could you benefit from joining a support group?