How Do I Find Online or In-Person Support Groups?

What support groups are available online and how do you find them?  How can you find in person support groups in your area for either a person with mental illness or the people who live with them?

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With the internet being so widespread and easily accessible, online support groups are popping up everywhere!  There are many resources you can use to find online support groups as well as support groups you can attend personally.  Everyone has a different comfort zone, so it may take testing a few of the groups out before you find one that you are comfortable with, both online and in person.  I was part of a few online support groups before I found Ask A Bipolar.  I was quite intimidated by the size of a few of the other ones and found myself at ease right away when I joined Ask A Bipolar (which, I should start out by saying, does have an online support group through Facebook).

How did I find these groups?

I began on Facebook and searched the groups for any that discussed bipolar disorder.  Some of the groups may not be support groups, so you may have to

click on a few before you find a group that fits you (that is of course if you haven’t found Ask A Bipolar to make you comfortable 😉 )  Online groups have the advantage of being anonymous, which can sometimes encourage others to share more and connect with them.  One of the disadvantages though, as I had found, was the size some of the groups can grow to.  If they get to be too big, it can be hard to make those connections and get a more personalized support.  If there are too many posts, sometimes posts can get lost in the shuffle.  However, if there are good moderators, that is less likely to happen.  Its all about testing the waters yourself and seeing which type of group suits you.  Some people like the larger groups because they like to be more passive and find their support just be seeing that others are going through similar experiences.  To find some other online support groups, one good resource to check out is Psych Central.  Here is the link for their listing of support groups. ( http://psychcentral.com/resources/Bipolar/ )   One other online resource that is targeted to Young Adults (teen-29) and is organized through NAMI is called Strength of Us.  (www.strengthofus.org)  The website covers a variety of mental illnesses and has blogs, discussion groups, and other resources which can be helpful in finding support.

*I forgot to mention in my initial post, International Bipolar Foundation also has a page that lists a variety of support groups and resources, not just in the U.S., but all over the world.  Here is the link for that page. (http://www.internationalbipolarfoundation.org/resources-and-links )

For in-person support groups, there are also a variety of places to locate those as well.  The benefit of going to an in-person support group is that it is a much more personal experience because you are face to face.  However, being face to face can sometimes be intimidating to people and can cause them to reveal much less than someone would if they are hiding behind a computer.  This is just like the online groups in that you probably have to check out a few before you find one that you like or that makes you feel comfortable.  Don’t give up just because the first one you go to doesn’t seem like a good fit.  There are lots of groups out there and here are a few ways to find those.   First, check out the NAMI website to find your local NAMI ( http://www.nami.org/template.cfm?section=Your_Local_Nami ).  Your local NAMI can help you find support groups in your area and probably even be able to recommend ones that have members around your age or with similar experiences.   Another organization that can help is the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA).  Here is the website which can help you locate a face to face support group in addition to online support groups.  (http://www.dbsalliance.org/site/PageServer?pagename=support_findsupportlanding )   You can also ask your doctor for any recommendations as well as checking with your local hospital.

Everyone has different experiences with support groups, whether its in-person or online.  Its like trying on a pair of shoes.  You have to keep looking and trying them on until you find the one that fits, makes you feel comfortable, and fits your needs.  I have found a great fit and support system online.  While a majority of my support comes from Ask A Bipolar, I do get support from other small groups.  Its not a bad thing to be involved in more than one group either.  You just have to be careful of being part of so many that your own needs aren’t getting met because you are spending your time trying to keep up with everyone else at all the different groups and no one is really getting to know you enough to help you. I have not attended in-person support groups simply because I have such a hectic schedule that online groups are easier for me, but that’s not to say that I won’t ever go to one, or  who knows, maybe even start one some day.  Its all a matter of the best fit for YOU.

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