As someone who has struggled with mental illness for a long time (you can read that story here), I can’t stress how important it is to find or identify your support group. You should never go through mental illness alone, and the odds are, your probably aren’t. There is someone in your life that cares and wants to help or understand.
A support group is a few people in your life that you trust. These people are there for you when you need to talk. They are there to listen. Maybe they can provide advice if that’s what you want or need. Often, they are simply someone who understands, loves or cares about you, and is there for you when you need them.
I am lucky in that my parents and my paternal grandmother are the foundation of my support group. They were the people who were there from the beginning and understands what I went through. I also have friends that may not be close to me now, but I know I can count on them to listen when I need them to, because they were there for the worst of it.
When I first realized there was something wrong, I thought I was alone. That nobody would understand, that everyone would think I was crazy or desperate for attention. I said nothing and tried to get through it alone. I believed this so much that I didn’t try to communicate my problems effectively with anyone. I have a post outlining my experience with mental illness here. As soon as I knew I needed someone, I got a psychiatrist and my mother went to those meetings, I began to realize how important clear communication was in getting help.
At first, I had my psychiatrist, and my parents. Then I had a few of my close friends and a favorite teacher. After high school, I had my parents and one or two good friends at varying times. When I moved across the state, I spent a lot of time with my grandmother on my dad’s side and what I had thought was annoying misplaced concern in high school became genuine support as an adult. I just needed to talk to her openly and help her understand. It was surprisingly easy and she became a major pillar in my support group. I also found a counselor that is also part of my support group.
A support group is a group of people in your life that are privy to your struggles, care needs, and will be there for you; even when your mental illness makes it difficult to be around. These people may not be your best friends or family and maybe they are. They don’t even have to know each other, although it helps if they do.
A support group just needs to be a group of people you trust and:
- You can talk openly about almost everything
- Do not make you feel judged
- Are respectful of your needs
- Understand that you are not “broken” and don’t need to be “fixed”
- Someone that is a solid fixture in your life and you can count on
If you have these people in your life, congrats you probably have a support group. Even if you didn’t know it. If you still don’t think you have these people in your life, try to look for them. They might be there and you just haven’t noticed it yet. Are there people in your life that fit the criteria but just aren’t it yet? Talk to them. Let them know if you are struggling. Someone who cares about you will tell you they do in some way or another.
You can probably tell who will be a good member of your support group based on experience. Someone who never answers their texts or phone probably isn’t a good candidate. Someone who doesn’t take time to listen to what you are saying probably isn’t a good candidate. Someone who makes everything about themself probably shouldn’t be in your support group. People who make you feel bad about yourself in any capacity should not be in your support group. You get the idea.
If you truly do not have any family, friends, or others in your life that can provide compassion, care, and support,
There are a few other places you can look for a support group:
- Local or community support groups
- Religious leaders you trust
- Clubs you participate in
- Counselors provided on campus
- A counselor covered by your insurance or you can afford
- Close coworkers (you will have to make some judgements on appropriateness here)
- Online forums (not the best option, but it works for some people. Be careful on these)
There are many places to look for people or groups of people who care. You may even get lucky in finding a community group with a quick google search.
Part of dealing with mental illness is taking the initiative to take care of yourself and find help. If you don’t have a support group, part of this initiative is finding those people that can help you if you need them. A support group isn’t necessarily a group of people, it can be one or two individuals. It could be upwards to more than 50 people. Whatever works for and is available to you. I would say it is best to have at least two people in your group because we are all human and sometimes we can’t be there for each other. Sometimes a member of your support group may need you to be a member in theirs.
Remember that the people in your support group are humans too and it’s not fair to:
- Take advantage of them or their availability
- Treat them poorly or unfairly (and then blame it on your mental illness)
- Get upset when they can’t drop everything for you
- Get upset when they don’t understand something and you haven’t tried your best to explain it to them, give them time.
- Abuse them. Mental illness is never an excuse to be cruel or abusive to someone else. Abuse is still abuse, even if the abuser is mentally unwell or sick.
Remember, support groups are there to help you in your journey to mental health. If your support group isn’t providing the help you need, it’s okay to find another one that does. Often you just need to stop going to specific members for support and lean on the other members or add more to compensate. You can never have too many people in your support group.