Picking the Support Group that's Right for You

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Self-help groups have a long-standing history and role in helping individuals and family members cope with mental health problems, mental illness and substance use problems. Many people find comfort in knowing they are not alone and benefit from the emotional support and practical tips that are often provided.

Self-help groups have a long-standing history and role in helping individuals and family members cope with mental health problems, mental illness and substance use problems. Many people find comfort in knowing they are not alone and benefit from the emotional support and practical tips that are often provided.

Some support groups are better than others. Problematic support groups are those that do not empower people and instead keep people trapped in unhealthy coping patterns. Some support groups only allow a place for members to "vent" without attempting to solve any ongoing problems. Although it is very important to feel heard and understood by others, a group should provide more than a venue for members to voice their concerns. The best support groups are those that provide members with reliable and accurate information that helps them better understand their mental health problem. A critical component is also the passing of knowledge about helpful resources and coping strategies that actually help a person make progress (e.g., places to get treatment, effective self-management strategies, high quality books and websites, etc).

"The right support group for you is exactly that: one that fits you, your own personal need, experience and area of support; one that allows you to be who you are through your time of healing, grieving learning or changing of yourself; one that allows you to feel a sense of belonging, a reason to be heard by others and an option to take only what you need from them."

- Jolene Mellor, Coordinator of Tiny Souls, Parent Bereavement Support (Cranbrook)

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Finding a support group

For a listing of support groups in British Columbia please call 310-6789 (don't enter 604, 250  or 778 area codes) 24 hours a day from anywhere in BC. These are other resources for you:

  • If you live in the Lower Mainland area you can also search a web site called the Red Book which allows you to search for a variety of resources including support groups.

  • The BC Alcohol and Drug Information and Referral Service maintains a list of groups related to addictions

  • You can also ask your health care professional if they can help you find a support group in your area that might be suitable.

  • Finally, PeerNetBC provides information and referral to peer support groups in the Lower Mainland on wide-ranging topics. They also publish a print directory of groups that you can order or ask about at your local library.

If you are aware of other support group directories that are not included on our list, please email us at bcpartners@heretohelp.bc.ca. BC Partners does not endorse any particular support group but instead has provided some guidelines to help you determine for yourself whether a support group is the right one for your needs.

It's very natural to feel a bit nervous or shy when first trying out a support group. Most people who attend groups are pleased to find out that other members usually felt the same way when they first joined. Some groups are just for the person who has the mental disorder or the substance use problem, other groups encourage people to bring along family or friends, and other groups are set up entirely for family and friends.

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Choosing a support group: A checklist

The following guidelines can be used to help you decide whether a particular support group is worth trying out. Feel free to print this page and fill out the answers as you call a support group facilitator for the first time:

1. Did you hear about the group from a trustworthy source?

  • your physician, local hospital, clinic, mental health centre, community centre or health professional can be good sources

  • regardless of how you hear about a support group, be sure to get as much information as possible before deciding to attend

2. Do you have enough information to decide whether to attend?

  • Good support groups will always have an official contact person you can call to get more information. Listed below are some questions you could ask. You can print this page and then fill in the information into the space provided.

3. When was the group started and is it accepting new members?

4. Where does the group meet?

5. What time does the group meet at and for how long?

6. How often does the group meet?

7. How many people usually attend?

8. Is the group affiliated with any organizations or programs?

9. Does the group do anything to protect confidentiality of its members (e.g., only using first names or agreeing not to talk outside the group about other members)

10. What kinds of things does the group do during its meetings?

11. What topics are included in discussions?

12. Is there someone who mediates or runs each support group meeting and what is their experience or qualifications?

13. Can family or friends attend the meetings?

14. Is there anything else you can tell me about your support group?

15. Is this support group a match for me?

After the meeting

After you have attended one or more support group meetings, are the following true or false for you?

  • It makes me feel more positive about myself

  • It helps me learn better ways of coping with my or my family member's symptoms

  • It decreases my sense of hopelessness

  • It helps remind me that I am not alone

  • I feel supported by other group members

  • It provides me with helpful information (e.g., good books, etc.)

  • It has helped me learn more about my or my family member's disorder

  • Symptoms have improved or been easier to manage since I have been attending

  • I receive encouragement from other group members

  • I feel better after attending a meeting

If you have found a very good support group, you will answer TRUE to all or most of the above questions. The more questions with FALSE as an answer, then the less likely the group is a good match for you or helpful in your efforts to manage your mental disorder or substance use issue or that of someone you care about. If a support group does not make you feel safe or comfortable, then it is probably best not to attend and instead try to find another group that meets your needs.

 
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