Support groups can be an effective way for people to cope with their individual experiences by speaking in a safe and judgement-free place.
What is informal support?
Support systems, also known as support groups, are when groups of people afflicted by the same condition, disease, or experience get together in a safe place to talk or arrange social events and activities to improve their wellbeing. Many people find that discussing their issues with people who understand can be helpful to decrease feelings of isolation. These groups are also called peer support or self-help groups.
Frequently asked questions
What is an online support group?
Online support groups are support groups and system based online and can be particularly helpful for patients who may be suffering from chronic illnesses or find it difficult to travel.
What are the different types of support groups?
There is a wide range of support groups for the different experiences people go through. Some groups are specifically designed for family members or friends experiencing something particular.
- Mental health support including but not limited to depression and anxiety
- Cancer recovery
- Eating disorders
- Physical disabilities
- Emotional concerns
- Experiencing a stressful time, for example parents without partners
- For those experiencing stigma
- Focusing on personal growth
How effective are support groups?
This may depend from individual to individual, however evidence suggests that over a long period of time, support groups can be effective modes of support.
What are the benefits of support groups?
There are a wide range of benefits from joining a support group, including:
- Reducing feelings of isolation and realising you’re not alone
- Not feeling judged
- Being able to express your feelings in a safe space with people who understand
- Learning helpful information that can help you deal with your issues
- Improve your communication and social skills
- Becoming hopeful and not giving up
- Feeling better and less distress
- Understanding yourself more
- Feeling in control and empowered
- Being able to help others
- Many support groups are free or are affordable
- Comparing notes with others who are experiencing the same thing
How can I improve my mental health?
According to the NHS, there are five steps you can take to improve your mental health and general wellbeing, helping you to feel more positively about your life.
- Connect with your friends and family
Building positive relationships with others can have a significant impact on your mental wellbeing, as well as giving you a sense of worth and belonging. It can also encourage you to open up, share positive experiences, and open up a dialogue of support.
Take time to spend with your loved ones. Don’t rely on social media and technology to build these relationships — although it is convenient to text and email, physically meeting up with people has more of a positive impact. If you don’t currently have anyone in your life that you’d like to connect with, consider volunteering or starting a hobby to meet new people.
- Keep physically active
Keeping active is well established in research for having a great impact on your physical health and mental health. Chemicals such as dopamine and endorphins are released in your brain which can elevate your mood and gets rid of the chemicals that might be making you feel negatively.
If you have a disability or long-term health condition, discover how to get active with a disability. You don’t have to join the gym to get active. Consider swimming, cycling, dancing, or going for runs.
- Learn new skills
Learning something new can help build a sense of purpose, your self-confidence, self-esteem, as well as chances to meet new people. You could join cooking classes, signing up for a course, pursuing a new hobby, or working on a home project to improve your personal environment.
Don’t pursue something for the sake of it if it doesn’t make you happy and you find that you dread it. Only do something you enjoy and want to do.
- Give back
The act of giving and kindness helps create positive feelings as well as building relationships with others. This doesn’t mean buying expensive gifts for others but could be volunteering in your local community, letting someone know how much they have positively impacted your life, or offering social and emotional support to someone who might be going through a hard time.
- Stay in the present moment (mindfulness)
By focusing on the current moment and the world around you, you will enjoy life more and can positively change how you feel about your life.