The Power of Support Groups

The evening before I went to my intake meeting at a partial hospitalization program, I walked into a support group for men with depression and anxiety.  I knew that before I entered a program to deal with my major depressive disorder, I wanted to build a support network for the future.  I had continued to spiral down for a couple of months and when I began to have frequent thoughts (and even dreams) of a very specific plan of suicide, I decided I needed more support.  I quit work to enter a three-week partial hospitalization program.

In order to help build my future support network, I decided to attend a men’s support group for depression the day before my intake meeting at the partial hospitalization program.  Driving into the parking lot of the support group was a bit odd.  The office and support group space was in an old, two-story motel that had been converted into office spaces.  It looked more like the type of place you’d find squad cars with flashing red lights and crime scene tape than an office for depressed and anxious men to meet.  Had I not met the founder of the organization who hosted the groups, I would have had my doubts about such a sketchy looking setup.

Some men in the group have said walking through the front door was the toughest thing they had ever done.  For me, it was simple.  I was incredibly depressed and feeling desperate for help.  When I entered the room, there were about six men sitting in a circle in chairs that didn’t match.  I grabbed the nearest empty chair and sat down.  I don’t even remember how I started to share about myself and my situation.  However, what I do remember was that I spoke for nearly the entire two-hour session, crying my way through most of it.  Sobbing and babbling to a bunch of men who I had never met.  This really speaks to the comfort of being in a support group, particularly one that is as homogeneous as this one was.  I didn’t put much thought into whether or not I could trust these men.  I just knew that many of them must have been through similar, or even worse, situations than what I was going through.  There was an immediate sense of trust, a feeling that I wasn’t going to be judged.  I remember looking at the clock, never wanting the two hours to come to a close.  It was the safest I had felt in several months.

Very soon after this first night at the men’s support group, I began my three-week treatment an a partial hospitalization program.  Every day began with a therapy group (similar to a support group, only led by a mental health professional).  This group, too, had many of the same benefits of the men’s support group.  People were able to receive emotional support and provide each other with suggestions of what helped them get past certain struggles they had had with mental illness.  However, at least in my case, I believe that the more homogeneous the group is, the easier to relate to one another, and the more beneficial the group may be.  My group in the partial hospitalization program had men with depression, but also others of a very wide range of age and diagnoses.  It was more difficult for me to relate to a twenty-two year old woman with bipolar or a much older woman with schizophrenia than it was for me to relate to a man of similar age with depression.

I’ve been mentally healthy for over two years, yet I continue to attend the men’s depression support group twice a month.  It allows me to support others going through challenging times, which I find to be very therapeutic.  It also allows me to check in with other men regarding my own mental health.  The support group is one piece of my recovery that I am not yet willing to give up.  I believe very strongly in the power of support groups.

As with all of my blog entries, I welcome and encourage comments.  Thank you.

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One thought on “The Power of Support Groups

  1. Pingback: Spouses Need Support, Too! | A Mental Health Blog by Al Levin

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