When you're depressed, it's common to withdraw from friends and family. This can make you feel isolated and alone -- but you are not. Depression just makes you feel like you are. The CDC reports that 1 in 10 U.S. adults is depressed.
Treatment for depression often involves medication, therapy, and healthy lifestyle changes including regular exercise and good sleep habits. Support groups -- whether online or in person -- can also be an important part of a well-rounded depression treatment plan.
Finding a Depression Support Group
The first step is to find a depression support group that is well-suited to your needs.
Many factors are involved in this decision:
- Does a licensed therapist or other mental health professional lead the group?
- Can you attend support group meetings on a regular basis?
- Is the support group held during convenient times for you?
- Can you relate to other people in the group?
- Did the group leader make you feel welcome?
- Did you have the opportunity to share during the support group?
- Are the other group members supportive?
If you have trouble finding a good support group, keep in mind that online support or chat groups can be equally helpful. Ask your doctor about any local or online depression support groups, or call the area hospitals to see if any are available. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (1-800-950-NAMI) can direct you to a local or online support group.
"Support groups are good for education about depression and for people who feel alone and isolated socially," says Scott Bea, PsyD. He is a psychologist in Cleveland Clinic's Center for Behavioral Health in Ohio.
"In order to get better, you have to start pushing yourself to be around others," he says. "Isolation exacerbates the depression." Support groups can be a way to test the waters and get re-plugged into society.
Often, it may be easier to talk to strangers about your depression than friends and loved ones. In addition, these groups can allow people to share strategies for coping with depression.
Benefits of a Depression Support Group
Support groups, and the relationships they foster, may also help prevent future episodes of depression, he says. "Being connected builds resilience," says Bea.
Just as you should not stop taking your antidepressant medication and/or seeing your therapist once you start to feel better, it is equally important that you continue going to support groups when the immediate crisis is over, he says.
Gail Saltz, MD, a New York City-based psychiatrist, agrees. "Support groups can be especially helpful during or around the holidays or other trigger situations,"she says. "Many people feel especially lonely over the holidays, which is why suicide rates tend to peak."
Lean on your support group during troubling times, she says.
Where to Find a Depression Support Group
If you're not familiar with the mental health resources in your area, now is a good time to reach out and find out what's available.
Contact your local hospital and community mental health center and ask for referrals to mental health support groups. Talk with your doctor or therapist, as they may know about depression support groups offered in your area. You may also consider these resources:
National Alliance on Mental Illness, Online Communities
Mental Health America
Find a Support Group
Visit the MHA's web site.
WebMD Depression Community