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Support Groups 101

Reasons To Consider Trying A Support Group

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Support groups are also known as mutual self-help groups because individuals with the same health condition help each other. Members learn from each other's experiences.

Studies show that participants in a support group tend to feel less worried, anxious and depressed, with a better quality of life and more vigor.

Speficially, participants in a support group can:

  • Obtain understanding and companionship.
  • Talk about difficult issues with people who are not emotionally involved.
  • Find a way to ease feelings of isolation and aloneness by talking with other people in a similar situation.
  • Learn from each other. For example:
    • Medical tips.
    • How to cope with the side effects of treatment and/or of a particular disease.
    • Valuable tips and short cuts to the practical matters of living with a particular health condition.
    • How to decrease costs and access moneys and other resources that may be available locally.
    • How to improve knowledge of a health condition.
    • How to improve each member's emotional life.
    • How to improve family life and friendships.
    • How to deal with practical problems at work, in school and in other settings.
  • Provide a forum for the participant to share what he or she learned about living with the condition.
  • Relieve feelings of hopelessness.
  • Incease feelings of control.
  • Provide opportunities to discuss body image, intimacy concerns and relationship challenges. These subjects are part of the experience that people may not find safe places to talk about. They are quality of life issues and deserve the opportunity to get untangled with other people who understand.
  • Learn about and from the experience of others – collective wisdom from the TRUE experts!  No one knows what it is like to live with your health condition like other people who are living with it as well. Support groups allow you to learn from those experts and to be an expert to the other members as well.
  • You can talk openly about end of life issues. “What if…?” 

Studies show that people in support groups show significantly lower depression, fatigue, and confusion, plus more vigor. People in support groups also feel a sense of connection. As one participant said: "You will always have a place to talk things out, in the company of people who understand."

In addition to all these advantages, a 1989 study of a small group of women with breast cancer found that those who were part of a support group lived 18 months longer on average than those who were not involved in support groups. According to the Harvard Health Letter, the results of other studies that have attempted to duplicate this result have been split down the middle. The leader of the 1989 study has speculated that the reason for the difference in results is as much about what has happened with breast-cancer since the study as about the value of support groups. Treatments have come a long way, and breast cancer is out of the closet. As the Harvard Health Letter states: "While participating in (a support group) might have been enough to tip the balance in the 1980s, it is now just one of several factors that can improve a patient's well-being."

If you join a support group, keep in mind that any information you receive about your condition should be confirmed through reliable sources. Likewise, keep in mind that what works for other people emotionally, may not work for you.

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