Tips and Resources for Online Support Groups

internet
A picture of a sign with yellow font on a blue background that reads “Internet Chat Room” in all caps. Credit to flickr.com user Fuzzy Gerades. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

If you suffer from a mental illness like bipolar disorder, then a peer support group can be a valuable asset to you. Having other people validate your experience might be liberating; being able to offer similar support to those around you may be cathartic. Support groups are not a replacement for therapy but can be a useful tool to help you feel less alone in your struggles.

However, finding a local group can sometimes be difficult, so you may turn to the internet to help facilitate a meeting between you and your peers. Read on to find out some tips to make the most of an online support group, as well as a list of resources for internet-based groups centered on people with bipolar disorder.

1. Be respectful

Do I really need to suggest that people need to be respectful of others in online support groups? Unfortunately, yes. Some people can be overly critical of others and attack them personally. Keep away from those behaviors, and your peers will respond accordingly. Correcting misinformation is okay, but be mindful of other people’s feelings while doing so.

2. Don’t release personal details

When participating in an online setting of any kind, you need to stay somewhat anonymous. Sharing your experiences is okay, as long as you don’t offer any personal details like where you live, your age, your real, full name, or anything else that identifies you. There are already documented cases of insurers denying life-saving coverage to people from based on what they’ve shared online. Employers also look at online history when determining whom to hire. If you post anything to the group that can be tied back to you, you put yourself at risk.

3. Try to remain positive

When I say “try to remain positive,” I don’t mean that you should pretend everything is hunky dory when you’re struggling. I mean that you should recognize what agency you have in the situation, and try to remain hopeful that your pain will pass eventually. One of the reasons to attend a support group is to build up the grit needed to reject despair and move forward.

4. Be mindful about what you read

You may ask for and receive advice that is applicable to your situation, or you may find that people share diverse experiences with you that don’t relate. That’s okay. Take what you need; reject everything else. Don’t expect that every word you read will be applicable or even accurate. There is a lot of misinformation about treatments floating around on the internet. Make sure to do your own research rather than just listening to the first source you hear. Support groups are mainly for the sharing and validating of experiences.

Resources

Here’s a list of resources for online support groups. Don’t give up if the first group you find isn’t a good “fit” for you. You may need an in-person support group (which I will cover in a future post) led by a facilitator instead, but give the online ones a try.

+supportgroups is a website with an easy commenting system. You simply post what you’re feeling and people respond on the site, similar to a forum.

bp Magazine Bipolar Facebook Support Group: The tagline for this Facebook support group run by bp Magazine is “Hope and Harmony for People With Bipolar Disorder.” There are over 8,000 members at the time of this writing.

The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) runs several 60-minute support groups on specific dates and at specific times on the website Support Groups Central. Join the site as a member for free; you have to fill out a profile, but your attendance in meetings is confidential. You will see a video stream of the facilitator and may choose to allow your own video to stream. This is the most like an in-person support group that I’ve found.

HealthfulChat is a traditional chat room with regulars and new people at all hours of the day. You may need to install the most recent update to Flash in order to log in.

Final Thoughts

Whether you’re feeling depressed or manic, there’s a support group for you. Just remember to be respectful, don’t release personal details, try to remain positive, and be mindful of what you read.

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4 Ways to Educate Someone About Mental Illness

Note: This post has been translated into French by Stephane at Espoir Bipolaire! Click here to read the French translation!

How often have you heard an insensitive–and inaccurate–remark about mental illness? How about something like, “the weather can’t decide whether to be hot or cold. It’s so bipolar!” or “these basketball players need to talk to each other. They’re so schizo!” These expressions are stigmatizing because they connect mental illnesses to undesirable behaviors.

It’s not your job–and it certainly isn’t fair–to have to educate others about mental illnesses. But, if you feel the need, how do you approach someone who uses terms of disorders in a healthy way? These four tips will hopefully help.

1. Is Engaging Worth It?

educate
Credit to flickr.com user Flixel David. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

First, figure out whether you want to engage the person. You’ll be opening yourself up to criticism, especially if you have a mental illness yourself. If you’re dealing with a stranger in a crowded place, it may not be worth it to correct them. However, if you’re dealing with a well-intentioned friend, feel free.

2. Watch Your Tone

As difficult as it is to not become defensive, try. Coming across as positive and kind will go a long way towards educating the ignorant, because they’ll be more likely to open a dialogue with you rather than getting defensive themselves. It’s not fair to have to police  yourself like this, especially when tempers are boiling hot, but if you want to correct someone, it’s better to not go on the offense.

3. Get Personal

Try to use “me” statements such as, “When you say things like that, it really hurts me.” If you’re comfortable talking about your mental illness, tell a bit of your story to demonstrate the effect of their words on you.

4. Offer Resources

Hopefully, the person you encounter will be open to discussion. If so, then you can offer them resources which they can use to educate themselves further. Websites like nami.org, for the National Alliance of Mental Health, are a good starting point. You want to make sure your resources are as comprehensive as possible.

Again, it’s not fair to have to educate anyone about your struggles with mental illness, and it’s certainly not pleasant to have to police yourself in order to engage with someone. But, the more you educate, hopefully the less you’ll have to deal with insensitive remarks in the future.

Have you ever educated anyone?

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