Support groups are great places to meet others with similar health conditions or life challenges. They provide the opportunity to ask the questions you don’t really get to talk to your doctor about – especially the questions about how to live with your condition day in, day out. You can share experiences with those who are at the same stage as you as well as those who have walked the path before you. For many people, just the sheer relief of finding others who ‘just get it’ helps them feel less alone and makes a huge difference in how they cope day-to-day.
I am a member of several different types of support groups and I also help to administer one (in person and online). I’ve found them to be very positive and supportive. I have made (and continue to make) many wonderful friendships through these groups and I feel reassured knowing that there are others I can turn to anytime I need to.
Yes, there can be personality clashes in support groups on occasion, but the same can be said of any group including families and workmates. A well-functioning group will have procedures in place to handle negative situations before they get out-of-hand.
5 tips to help you get the most out of a support group
- Do your homework. Find out who runs the group and how they structure it. Check if it is limited to a specific condition or demographic such as parents of children with juvenile arthritis. Also, find out if they endorse specific treatments or products or if they allow commercial advertising. (This may not be a bad thing and mainly only applies to informal online groups. It doesn’t hurt to know beforehand, though.)*
- Know what your needs are. What are you looking to get from the group? Information? Activities? Hearing from guest speakers? Or maybe just talking to others? For example, if you want to work on your physical health, then a group that offers exercise classes could work well. If you have lots of questions, you may prefer a group that allows plenty of time for open discussion.
- Some people may be unsure about joining a support group because they are worried about their privacy. That’s understandable, but always remember you don’t need to share anything you don’t want to and that most groups have a very high level of respect for personal privacy. It’s quite ok to join a group and just observe it for a while before deciding if you want to participate further. Anytime you join an online group (not just support groups), it always helps to check your own privacy settings and those of the group and make sure you are comfortable with them.
- The best support groups are those that encourage members to respect the opinions of others and discourage judging or bullying behaviours. All members should be encouraged to make their own informed choices based on their personal circumstances.
Group organisers always want their groups to be safe, happy and inclusive places for everyone. However, if someone upsets you or if you see something that concerns you on the site, be sure to contact the group’s leader or administrator and ask for their help.
Sometimes, you may want to ‘shop around’ different groups to find one you really relate to. If you join a group but it doesn’t feel right for you, you can try another group or even start one of your own. (For help with this, contact the arthritis organisation in your state or message us for our tips.)
Remember, there will always be other people out there happy to listen to you and support you, no matter where you are.