Results of studies of such programs consistently show: reduced symptoms and substance abuse, reduction in hospitalizations, improved social skills, and increased self-esteem and healthy behavior in people who participate.
Online groups can ease isolation
Kathleen Brannon, 48, isn't surprised by these findings. "I'm socially phobic, and have a terrible fear of talking to people," says the stay-at-home mom from Herndon, Virginia, who has a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. "So being able to get help on the Internet was helpful."
For Joseph, who has suffered from depression for nearly 30 years, meeting in person far surpasses online support groups for depression. "I see [the other participants'] facespanic, sadness, hopeand their body language. It was invaluable, and I can't imagine doing it on a computer," he says.
A friend of Joseph's pulled together a small group of men and women who meet to talk at his apartment. "We don't get into therapy with each otherit's mostly hand-holding. I find out to my relief that I'm not the worst-off person in the group," he says.
Other groups are more formal, and some are modeled on Alcoholics Anonymous, with strict codes of confidentiality and no fees. Your therapist or primary care physician can refer you to a peer support group, or the National Alliance on Mental Illness (1-800-950-NAMI) can direct you to an online or in-person meeting in your area.
Eventually Brannon got off line and graduated to such a group through NAMI. "I'd never been anyplace where everyone in the room was mentally ill, and we hadn't been forced to be there," she says. The experience of sharing stories, relating to people with similar characteristics, and swapping coping tips allowed her to see own diagnosis more objectively. It also distigmatized her diagnosis. "There were all these great, smart, kind people there. I didn't have as much trouble identifying as a person with mental illness after that."