We all have problems. Let’s face it: humans are problems. We create problems, we live problems, we solve problems, we prolong problems, we complain about problems, we hate problems, some of us love problems, we…well, you get the idea.
Whether your problems come from within such as in the case of an illness, or from something outside of you, such as your demanding boss, research shows that we are more likely to better cope with our problems with some kind of support from peers who have been in the same situation as we face.
By coping better I mean we may live happier lives, have less stress, increased psychological well-being, and decreased negative symptoms.
Now, while you might not join a support group to deal with an a-hole of a boss, you may want to consider one if you deal with chronic mental or physical illnesses, bereavement issues, weight loss or addiction issues, or if you are a caregiver for someone who is ill or dependent.
In one study (1), 82% of the 129 members of the Manic Depressive and Depressive Association were hospitalized before joining the support group. After joining, only 33% reported any hospitalizations.
In a substance abuse study (2), 180 participants with high self-help (Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous) attendance rates used alcohol and/or cocaine less than half as much as did those with low self-help attendance. In a second study (3), in the 18 months following treatment, the more days the patient attended Alcoholics Anonymous self-help meetings, the longer their abstinence lasted.
In a bereavement group study (4), 197 widows and widowers over age 50 who participated in self-help groups experienced less depression and grief than the 98 nonparticipants if their initial levels of interpersonal and coping skills were low. (If their interpersonal and coping skills were high they still benefited after eight weeks of participation.)
I have been attending support group meetings for alcoholism for the past 10 years and believe I would not have remained sober for this long without doing so. Currently, I am participating in an online smoking cessation support group that is proving to be an invaluable part of my quit program. And let’s not forget this wonderful blogging community, which I consider to be a large part of my mental health “support group.” Thank YOU for that!
The greatest thing in the world to hear while you’re in the depths of your struggles, whether it is with an addiction, a mental illness, the loss of a loved one, or just a crappy day is, “I understand how you feel. I’ve been where you’re at. You are not alone.” And that, my friend, is why hermithood is not for me.
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(1) Kurtz, L. F. (1988). Mutual Aid for Affective Disorders: The Manic Depressive and Depressive Association. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry 58(1): 152-155.
(2) McKay, J. R., A. I. Alterman, et al. (1994). Treatment Goals, Continuity of Care, and Outcome in a Day Hospital Substance Abuse Rehabilitation Program. American Journal of Psychiatry 151(2): 254-259.
(3) Pisani, V. D., J. Fawcett, et al. (1993). The Relative Contributions of Medication Adherence and AA Meeting Attendance to Abstinent Outcome for Chronic Alcoholics. Journal of Studies on Alcohol 54: 115-119.
(4) Caserta, M. S. and Lund, D. A. (1993). Intrapersonal Resources and the Effectiveness of Self-Help Groups for Bereaved Older Adults. Gerontologist 33(5): 619-629.