1. Knowing You’re Not Alone – when you find others that are going through similar situations, it helps to know that you truly aren’t the only one. Living with mental illness can be isolating as we tend to withdraw from a world that seems to not understand us. Meeting other people that share my struggles has helped me come to terms with the fact that I’m not the only one.
2. A Place To Vent – when you belong to a peer support group, you have a place where you can talk about your feelings and your struggles with people that understand what you’re trying to cope with. They get the lingo of what you’re talking about. For example, in my group, if I talk about my different side effects from some of my antidepressants, my group understands what I’m talking about without my having to go into a deeper explanation about the medications themselves.
3. Sharing Knowledge & Experiences – peer support groups are great at sharing knowledge with one another and it has helped me a great deal hearing about treatments I might not know about. We share our experiences and what has worked or not worked for us and each of us can take something from that for ourselves. Someone might have tried a therapy that another person is thinking of trying and by sharing their experience, it might ease anxieties. Even though what works for one might not work for another, at least the knowledge is shared.
4. Creating Connections – when you belong to a peer support group, you begin to build connections that will sustain you in difficult times. Friendships develop and you begin to slowly trust again and learn that there are people you can turn to in times of need. I believe that having connections is important for our souls to be nourished and belonging to a group is a great way to develop those connections.
5. Giving Back – when you belong to a peer support group, others need you. This starts to foster a sense of purpose within yourself that gives you the motivation to keep going. Knowing that you are important to someone else gives you a sense of belonging. When you give back to others, it opens your heart to receive even more.
If you’re thinking about joining a peer support group to help manage your mental illness, I’d strongly advise it. Look for groups that are compassionate, understanding and monitored closely to assure that all members are treating each other well.