Experiences of support groups for depression
Various mental health charities and organisations run local support groups throughout the UK. Support groups provide a forum for people with depression to meet, talk, share experiences and learn more about the condition and its treatments. There is usually a facilitator to help the group run well. One advantage of gaining support from such a group is that you can still attend even if you feel very unwell: you do not have to contribute anything since others will understand how you feel. Some people also use Internet based support groups and chat rooms (see 'Self-help resources for depression').
As one older man said, depression is an “exceedingly isolating” condition and so breaking through that isolation is very helpful. Many people we talked to eased their isolation considerably by attending a support group in their area. For instance, one man who was very isolated by his depression was able to make a friend at a support group for people with chronic fatigue.
While feeling very isolated, he has found a friend through a chronic fatigue (ME) support group.
Some people who did not have a support group in their area actually became involved in organising a local group. One woman (who had become aware of the remarkable sense of solidarity between patients from very different backgrounds in hospital) was asked by her social worker to help organise a support group. She benefited from the experience in that she felt useful, helped others and felt she was giving “something back”.
Becoming secretary for a new local support group helped her to feel useful, link with...
So being involved in the MIND, and what it did for you specifically is it re-engaged your secretarial skills and you helped others?
It did. I suppose, you know I wasn't conscious of it, but I suppose, it gave me back confidence in my skills, that I hadn't lost them. Because I've been [pause] away for quite some time at that point [pause] what else did it do for me? Well I suppose it made me feel useful too, that I was of use. Again, I didn't consciously think of it then, but it will have, will have done that. And I do think that the idea that it was benefiting somebody else as well, that it wasn't just 'self'. Which is a good thing because you do turn in on yourself. And it made one sort of stop being focused on just oneself. And look outwards towards other people. That was an important step I think in that.
The people we talked to benefited greatly from participating in support groups. Some began to build confidence about being with other people, which then helped them to participate in other social activities. Others learned about local resources, such as day centres, from support groups.
What many valued most was the sharing of experiences with others who understood what depression was like. For instance, one man gained a lot from the equality and bonding with his support group. Another man could work through his feelings of being different, as well as concerns about how to cope with social pressures' in going to a support group, he discovered that people with depression were usually sensitive and intelligent, rather than 'missing something' as he had originally thought. This discovery helped him to be more accepting of himself. One woman discovered that it was the mutual support over a period of years that was important to her.
Was comforting to be with people who knew what he was talking about, he bonded with the group,...
But in this group I felt that we were more equal, you know because we all had gone through the same thing, so I felt almost an immediate bond, if you like, with all those people though I'd never met them before. And I don't know who I'm going to meet the next time I go, I presume some people are going to be there because there is a core of people and I presume that some people, the newcomers, I'm guessing that probably some or one of them would be terrified, and not come back again, you know.
But I felt very comfortable so, you know the advice I give to people is to try some kind of support group, you know people who are going through the same process as you are. Because again, when you're going through this process alone, you think that there is something utterly wrong with you and that it's just you on earth going through that thing alone. And then when you meet other people you say, you know I have the same problems.
Was pleased to discover that members of his support group were sensitive, intelligent and...
And it was quite nice realising that these people did suffer from depression, and yet they were very intelligent and sensitive people. And you know, there's obviously no contradiction between the things but in fact, you know, you spend all that time feeling, looking at other people and I've felt I was worse than, you know, I felt I was'. and I felt I was missing something. I didn't have something that the rest of the human race had. But in fact, it turned out almost to be the opposite. That in fact, you know we have a certain sensitivity, I think, being depressed maybe.
Found that attending a support group and gaining its support over a period of 2 years was what...
By sharing, by sharing... well people meeting with a shared interest. You put something in, take something out. There are people there who, they won't say, "Pull yourself together, pull your socks up, what have you got to be depressed about?" There is none of that. The mutual support is just unbelievable.
Some problems were reported with depression-related support groups. They tend to rely on the energy of one or two people, and so they can start up and close down according to the priorities of those people. Although support groups frequently cover interesting topics, sometimes people find that members can take issues out of context, such as discussions about the right medication to take or potential side effects.
Says that people can sometimes take discussions of personal experiences out of context in support...
And sometimes at a self help group that's what happens. You can never but that.... Sometimes people.... hear you talk about your personal experiences with them, they say they feel like that or whatever but they can nay say, "Oh I'm going to ask the doctor can I get that".
Support groups do not appeal to everyone - several had noticed that some people had only ever come along once. Groups can also get bogged down in discussions of negative experiences - one woman, who did not find the discussion in her local support group helpful, left with the impression that “they all seemed worse than me”. Support groups for people with manic depression can have a lot of humour, but depressed people might have trouble coping with people who seem too 'high'.
People can go to support groups even if they are not feeling great since others understand, but...
Why is that important, the humour?
The humour. Because you all, I think you all know, you've all got that in common, really. I think I'm probably thinking more of a manic depression one. I've never actually been to a depression group, I have to say, not in person.
In manic depression there's humour around?
If people are a bit manic, it can set people off. On the other hand it can also not be very nice for somebody who's depressed. If you're depressed you don't want somebody ...who's high. But there again, if you're the high person you can't understand why everybody's not joining in. But if you have a good facilitator then they can help, which we did, I have to say.
Skilled facilitation of the support group is the key to avoiding situations where the group gets caught up in unproductive discussions. It was suggested that people look for a group that has a skilled facilitator. Some facilitators are also attempting to move beyond the mere comfort of sharing of stories. For instance, one facilitator we talked to was keen to incorporate the sharing of various healing techniques to combat depression.
This facilitator of a support group wants to encourage his group to master healing techniques as...
On the other hand, I am being a therapist, I'm using it' I don't really want to run a group just to comfort people with depression, I don't want to. If I wanted to do that, any of them could be the leader of the group if that's all it is. Because all they do is just meet, swap stories and think well it's nice being with people that understand. Well of course it is, and it can even be very therapeutic in itself for certain people. But then once they've got to that stage, when they've had the therapy of just the sympathy, then they need something else. And some of the people in that group are not the sort of people who go to a counsellor for one reason or another, and so I'm determined that I'm going to bring a lot of the techniques that I've learned into the group, and offer to them. It's up to them whether they do anything with them or not, but that's what I'm going to do.
Last reviewed September 2017.