Support groups can provide personal support for family members who are caring for a disabled individual. These groups can offer information, tips and emotional support through both the good times and the bad. Joining a group may also give you opportunities to learn more about a disability or a disabling disease, new treatments that are available and in some cases legal or financial advice for the care of a loved one.
What Support Groups Do
Many support groups are small groups of people who share a common interest. Groups that have a focus on a disabling disease or condition are often run out of local hospitals or community centers. The individuals who head up a support group may have a disabling disease themselves or are a counselor who has experience working with people who have a specific medical condition. Individuals who head up the support group usually have experience counseling people as well.
A support group usually has a regularly scheduled meeting date each week or each month. Alternatively, some support groups are being offered online so that those who cannot travel can still meet in a chat room or other virtual environment.
What to Expect
Support group meetings are usually very informal. The person who heads the group will do introductions at the beginning of a meeting so that new members can get to know the other members. New members don’t have to jump right in and divulge all of their problems; members are free to discuss problems or share news as soon as they feel comfortable doing so. In addition, there is no attendance requirement. Some individuals enjoy coming to all of the support group meetings, whereas others may only come once in a while when they feel they need support of others.
Meetings are held for a specific period of time, about an hour or so. If a scheduled meeting is longer, members may be asked to bring a lunch or to bring a snack to share. Depending upoon where the meeting is being held, beverages, such as coffee, tea or water, may be available to group members.
Where to Find Support Groups
A primary care physician or health care specialist for the person you are caring for is often the best place to start when you’re looking for a support group. Alternatively you can find support groups through advocacy organizations that support a specific disability or health condition. If the organization has a website, their support group information is often posted there. In addition, many churches and community centers have postings on their bulletin boards that provide the meeting dates and times for specific support groups.
If you aren't finding any support group information through these sources, call your local hospital and ask to speak to someone in their counseling department or call a local counseling center. These individuals will be able to advise you about their support group offerings, as well as any other groups in your area.
When Support Groups Aren’t Enough
Sometimes people have feelings that overwhelm them, especially if they find themselves unexpectedly caring for a disabled person. While a support group can help people vent their problems or share tips and experience, they aren’t a substitute for psychological counseling.
If you’re feeling anxious, angry, depressed or suffering from sleep deprivation as a result of being a caregiver, it is time to get additional help. Don't hesitate - set up an appointment right away to speak with your primary care physician about your situation. They will be able to give you guidance and if necessary, recommend an experienced counselor who can help you with stress management and coping strategies.