Health problems like cancer or heart disease and mental health
problems like substance abuse or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have an
emotional side. And the same is true for certain life events, like being a
parent or caring for someone who has a chronic illness. Your life changes. And you
may need a shoulder to cry on or someone to talk to. You may need a ride to the
doctor or a night out. You need support.
Support takes many
forms. You can find support in seminars and groups led by professionals, in
groups of others who have the same problem, and in your relationships with
family and friends.
If you have a support network, you will not
feel as alone. You'll learn new ways to deal with your problem, and you may try
harder to overcome it. Social support can play an important role in recovery.
Support groups and peer support
Self-help and support groups can be very helpful for some people.
These groups usually consist of people with similar problems who meet to give support, practical advice, and encouragement to the
people who participate in the group.
Self-help and support groups are different from counseling sessions.
These groups may last for only a few sessions or they may be ongoing.
Self-help and support groups:
Are run by members of the group. Group members
help each other solve problems.
Meet regularly, usually once a
week. Some groups may meet only as needed.
Can be attended by both
the person who has the condition and his or her family and friends. Membership
may vary. Talk with someone in the group before attending for the first
Usually work best if all members participate. It is not
important to talk in the group, especially if it is your first time. Listening
(and offering silent encouragement by smiling and paying attention) is also a
way of taking part.
Joining a self-help or support group does not take the place of
counseling. Some people who attend these groups also need to participate in
regular counseling sessions with a health professional.
Self-help or support groups are not for everyone. Some people feel
uncomfortable talking in a group. Attend a group meeting at least three times
before you choose not to go back. Then you can make a better decision about
whether taking part in a self-help or support group is good for you.
How to find a support group
Here are some ways to find support groups.
Ask your doctor, counselor, or other health
professional for suggestions.
Ask your religious leader. You can
contact churches, mosques, synagogues, or other religious
Ask your family and friends.
Ask people who
have the same condition.
Contact a city, state, or national group
for the condition. Your library, community center, or phone book may have a
list of these groups.
Search the Internet. Forums, email lists,
and chat rooms let you read messages from others and leave your own messages.
You can exchange stories, let off steam, and ask and answer questions. But these websites are often not monitored by professionals, so you may find inaccurate information, which can increase your anxiety.
Look for a support group that works for you. Ask yourself
if you prefer structure and would like a group leader, or if you'd like a less
formal group. Do you prefer face-to-face meetings, or do you feel more secure
in Internet chat rooms or forums?
Social support includes emotional
support such as love, trust, and understanding, as well as advice and concrete
help, such as help managing your time. Your family, friends, and community all
can do this. They can make you feel cared about and feel good about yourself,
and can give you hope.
You may get your social support from many
people. You may play sports with one group of people, go to movies with
another, and turn to family or friends to talk over problems.
can look for support from:
Your spouse or partner and your
Your parents, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles,
cousins, grandparents, and anyone who is like family to you.
Friends, coworkers, members of your religious and/or spiritual
groups, neighbors, and classmates.
Support groups, consumer
drop-in centers, and online support groups.
nurses, and other professionals.
Ask yourself where you get your social support. You may
be able to forge a closer relationship with family members or friends. Maybe
you know someone who you'd like to know better. You can join a club, or find a
group of people with the same interests you have.
Improving social support
You may not have good
social support. You may avoid other people. This may be because:
You may feel ashamed of having your problem
and not want to talk to anyone.
Your condition may make other
people wary of you. For example, if you have PTSD and are often angry, people
may avoid you.
You may feel too sad to want to talk to
You may have no family and few friends where you
If you can improve your social support, it can help you
deal with your condition. Here are some ways you can make your social support
Know that social support is a two-way street.
You count on your social network for support, but its members also count on
you. Ask them about their families, jobs, and interests, and help them when you
Know your friends' limits. You don't have to see or call your
friends every day. If you're going through a rough patch, ask friends if it's
okay to contact them outside of the usual boundaries.
complain or talk about yourself. Know when it's time to stop talking and listen
or to just enjoy your friend's company.
Be clear when
communicating. Ask questions to be sure you know what people want. If you ask
for something, be sure you make yourself understood. Listen to what your
friends have to say, and don't judge them.
Know that good friends
can be bad friends. If your buddy keeps you drinking when you shouldn't be, you
may want to end the friendship. A social network lifts you up. It shouldn't
drag you down.
How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.