A support group is a gathering, either in person or online, of people who are dealing with a specific issue. Many form around serious or chronic health issues. Other common support groups include those for caregivers, people going through bereavement, or those recovering from an addiction. It’s an opportunity to share feelings and struggles openly with those who are more likely to understand than other people in your life who don’t share the same struggle.
The Benefits and Possible Drawbacks of Support Groups
We believe strongly in the power of support groups here at Western Maryland Health System. While our providers can deliver you or a family member excellent care, you may still struggle in your need for emotional support. Your friends and family may desire to support you but can’t understand how to do that since they haven’t faced your challenge. Besides being a place where you can be honest about your emotions and struggles, support groups are an excellent opportunity to learn new coping mechanisms that you might not have considered on your own. Other benefits to consider include:
- Increased motivation to stick with a treatment plan or make needed lifestyle changes.
- Feeling more empowered and like you have a greater sense of control over your health outcome.
- Hope from seeing that others have overcome similar challenges.
- Learning about various treatment options that other members have tried, which can provide more valuable information than reading just the facts about a procedure.
- Gaining information about additional resources, including economic resources to aid you in your health struggle.
- Learning in-depth information about your condition or disease that your doctor may not have time for in a typical appointment.
- Support groups can help to reduce loneliness and stress as well as provide a safe place to speak where you don’t feel judged.
Even though support groups can make a wonderful compliment to your medical treatment, you may find that you don’t care for a particular group. That’s not unusual, but the important thing is to keep looking until you find another group that you feel is a good fit. Perhaps you joined a group and discovered that one person monopolized conversation no matter how many times the leader tried to get back on track. Maybe you fear that what you say won’t be held in confidence. This is always a good reason to look for another group since trust is paramount.
Any group of people will have some issues, especially those going through a stressful health challenge. If you feel you have given it your best shot and you just don’t feel comfortable, trust your gut and move on.
Should You Join an Online Support Group?
Maybe you have small children and don’t have anyone to watch them while you attend a support group or you have transportation challenges. You could be a very shy person and simply prefer the format of an online support group instead of one that you attend in person. An online support group can give you anonymity and possibly more privacy as well. It’s more flexible with your schedule, allowing you to participate when you have uninterrupted time to yourself. However, you need to be mindful that an online group has unique challenges such as the following:
- Group members may frequently misunderstand each other without the benefit of voice tone and body language.
- People may join the group under the guise of needing support and then attempt to sell a product or harass others.
- Anonymity can make some people feel bolder to say inflammatory or hurtful things they would never say in person.
- You may find yourself isolated from family and friends in favor of the people you know online.
Questions to Ask to Determine if a Support Group is Right for You
The first way to narrow down a list of possible support groups is to find out if the one you’re considering is for people diagnosed with a certain health condition or those at a specific disease stage. If so, here are some other factors to consider before committing to a group:
- When and where does the group meet?
- Does it cost anything to participate?
- Does the group meet indefinitely or only for a set time?
- Will someone facilitate or moderate the group? If so, has he or she completed training?
- How can you be certain that anything you share will be kept confidential?
- What are the basic rules regarding group participation?
You may want to reconsider participation if you feel extreme pressure to join, if you’re required to purchase certain products or services to attend, or the group leaders promise a cure for your health condition.
Support Groups Available at Western Maryland Health System
We’re happy to let you know that we offer several support groups as well as community events here at WMHS. Our current support groups include:
- Adult Diabetes Support Group
- Bariatric Support Group
- Infertility Support Group
- Look Good, Feel Better for women undergoing radiation, chemotherapy, and other types of treatment for cancer
- Young Adult Diabetes Support Group
We also invite you to view this video to learn more about our support groups. Health challenges can be filled with anxiety, but you don’t have to face them alone.