Why do I need a support group?

Why do I need a support group?
By Tawnya Creager, Community Outreach Director at Easter Seals Adult Day Services

How can a support group help me? If you look up support group you will find this definition. "A group of people, sometimes led by a therapist, who provide each other moral support, information, and advice on problems relating to some shared characteristic or experience: a support group for cancer survivors." In a support group, members provide each other with various types of help, usually nonprofessional and nonmaterial, for a particular shared, usually burdensome, characteristic. The help may take the form of providing and evaluating information, relating personal experiences (stories), listening to and accepting others' experiences, providing sympathetic understanding and establishing a social network. A support group may also work to inform the public or engage in advocacy.
Even though support groups may seem to be a modern experience, in fact they are not. These groups are built on supportive functions, which historically had been carried out in extended families. There are some support groups that are led by a therapist or another type of professional who does not share in the troubles of the members, but there are other support groups that are fully organized and managed by its constituents. They are commonly volunteers and have personal experiences in the subject of the group's focus. These groups are termed self-help support groups.
Since 1982, the World Wide Web has provided a new and successful venue for support groups as well. Several studies have shown the importance of the Internet in providing social support, particularly to groups with chronic health problems. In addition to sharing knowledge regarding rare disorders or diseases, a sense of community and understanding in spite of great geographical distances can be important. Whether you attend a group led by a professional, a volunteer, or choose the Internet, research demonstrates the benefits of support groups. Some of those benefits include:
* Making connections. Meeting others with the same troubles or conditions may make you feel less alone or isolated. A safe and welcoming environment filled with compassion and understanding, can also reduce the stigma you may feel over your situation.
* Improving your coping skills. Support groups offer the chance to draw on collective experiences. Others who have "been there" may have tips or advice about coping with your condition that haven't occurred to you. Brainstorming with others may inspire even more ideas.
* Getting motivated. Support groups can encourage you to seek professional treatment if you haven't already. They may also encourage you to take a more active role in your current treatment or stick to your plan more consistently. In a support group, the members may assist each other with finding community resources, such as housing or transportation assistance.
* Finding hope. Sharing experiences and making connections can make you feel better about life in general. Seeing others making strides against their conditions or situations may help give you hope about your own future.
When considering joining support groups there are a few important questions to ask, such as:
* Is it geared toward a specific condition (If that's of importance to you)?
* Is the location convenient for regular attendance?
* What is the meeting schedule? Is there a facilitator or moderator?
* Is it confidential?
* Does it have established group rules?
* What is a typical meeting like? Is it free, and if not what are the fees?
Plan to attend a few support group meetings to see how you fit in. If the group makes you feel uncomfortable or you don't find it useful, try another one. Remember that even a support group you like can change as participants' come and go. Periodically evaluate the support group to make sure it continues to meet your needs.
Some people may be nervous about sharing personal issues with people you don't know, especially if you are face to face. It may seem easier to interact with them online. However, there are a few words of caution to keep in mind if you plan to interact with an online support group.
* Keep in mind that some people prey on vulnerable individuals they meet online.
* Be aware of the possibility that people aren't always who they say they are, or maybe trying to market a product or treatment.
* Be careful about revealing personal information, such as your full name, address or phone numbers.
* Lastly, make sure you don't let extensive Internet use lead to isolation from your family, friends and outside social network.
How can I find a support group?
* Ask your doctor, therapist, or local healthcare center
* Talk to your priest, reverend, or fellow churchgoers
* Contact community centers or libraries
* Look in your phone book
* Check your local newspaper for a listing of support resources
* Ask family and friends
Support groups aren't a substitute for medical treatment but they can be a valuable addition. They can teach you new coping tools, encourage you to follow through on treatment and help you feel less isolated. Although opening up to others can be initially difficult, you may get more out of a support group than you thought. Be sure to talk openly with your doctor or healthcare provider about your participation in support groups.
Here is a brief list of some support groups located in the Washington County area:
* Somerford Assisted Living holds an Alzheimer's disease support group the first Tuesday of each month at 5:30-6:30pm. If interested you can contact Sheri Evans at 301-791-9221.
* Loyalton of Hagerstown also hosts an Alzheimer's disease support group the third Thursday of each month from 5:30-6:30pm. Contact April Reynolds at 301-733-3353 for more information.
* Washington County Mental Health Authority holds several different types of support groups. You can call them at 301-739-2490 or visit their website: www.wcmha.org/prov_dir/support_groups.htm for a complete listing.
* Homewood @ Williamsport hosts a Parkinson's disease support group the first Thursday of each month at 1pm. If interested contact Peg or Don Barron at 301-766-0938.
* Several support groups are coordinated through the Washington County Hospital. If you are interested check out their website at www.washingtoncountyhospital.com/support/index.asp or you can contact them by phone at 301-790-8000 (ask for support group information).