Support groups can play a prominent role in restoring our mental health and well-being. Sometimes those suffering from chronic health concerns, who have mental health-related illnesses, lost family members or are care-givers for terminal patients, can cope with their experiences better by becoming a part of support groups and learning from each other.

A support group is a gathering of people who are going through a rough time due to medical reasons, mental illness or other personal struggles.
They get a chance to share their personal stories and struggles. And through discussions, they focus on how they can help each other and live each day feeling better than before. This is also the space where they learn how to cope with the burden they are carrying and how they can proceed with dealing with and treating them. Best of all, it provides a non-threatening environment. A doctor may be clinical and cold in his assessment, family members may not be able to understand you but a support group is the perfect anchor and gets you back in the groove.

The following are some ways in which support groups can be a helpful:

1) Gain practical knowledge and information: Being able to speak with others going through similar experiences can help you gain knowledge of the practical aspects of your condition that you may not be aware of yourself. People in support groups can supply information to each other which can help in the long run. Sometimes, you get access to better learning resources and referrals for top doctors and experts.

2) Recognise that you are not alone in your experiences: One of the most effective ways in which support groups can help is by allowing individuals to recognise they are not alone in experiencing their distress and pain. They feel less alone and isolated and more secure in knowing that they are not the only ones who are being tested. Somehow, you feel relieved that there might just be a way to get out of the trough.

3) Sharing feelings is comforting: Consistently holding on to difficult feelings can aggravate daily challenges of coping with them.Sharing similar experiences with others fosters a space where one doesn’t feel judged. Instead, everybody feels better supported and comforted as well. If you have been a loner, a support group is the best way to improve your social skills.

4) Find alternative ways to cope: Often in a stressful situation, people can develop tunnel vision and feel restricted in how they believe they can manage and cope with situations. Having access to others allows the development of perspective and understanding that there are other ways in which a person can cope and find ways to take care of themselves or those in their family.

5) It is empowering: There is safety in numbers and one feels empowered in a support group. Fellow sufferers are able to truly understand and empathise with what is happening with the individual. And when you see group members recovering, you, too, want to get better. And when you have regained your moorings and feel better yourself, you can help others. Also, you understand yourself better and can deal with future challenges going forward.

6) Maintain your motivation: Being a part of a support group can keep you motivated enough to negotiate the tricky terrain of going through an illness, coping with grief and loss or helping a family member face traumatic situations. Members of support groups often come together to give reminders to each other and help pull each other up.

In the end, support groups neutralise inhibitions and enable conversations on ways to maintain hope, positivity and optimism in the face of exceptionally difficult circumstances.

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