A Support Group can be your Emotional safety net & lifeline


This morning when I pulled opened the curtains to my dining room window overlooking the neighborhood park, I spotted one of my neighbors (let me call her Lillete) is power walking in the park. She looked radiant and chic in her joggers outfit. She appeared much energized. Looking back a few months ago, I remembered last year’s Halloween night (October 31), when she went trick-or-treating with her five-year-old granddaughter in matching Winnie the Pooh costumes. It was nice to see her inner youth, all decked out, and joining in on the neighborhood activity on Halloween night. A week before Halloween, I saw her costume hunting at a strip mall Halloween shop. In the summer of last year, her husband, a retired college professor died after suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and permanent dementia. He had suffered for almost seven years. When Lillete was locked into the role of being the primary caregiver of her husband, it eventually took its toll on her. The mental and physical exhaustion was seriously affecting her health and overall wellness. With advice from well-meaning friends and extended family, she started going to a women’s support group for comfort and emotional support. She seemed to have found salvation in that Alzheimer’s support group.

The support group provided Lillete a lot of help and reassurance during her husband’s illness. They offered her continued support in all practical matters after his death. Seeing her last Halloween night made me think that because of a strong support system, she is now able to move forward with her life after such a painful loss. She is one of the lucky ones. She has a ton of friends, extended family and a lot of well-wishers to make sure that living solo doesn’t have to mean feeling depressed. They tried to make sure that she is adjusting to life alone after her husband’s death. But Lillete doesn’t want to be alone. At 69, it looks that she has her love life under control. There is a rumor going around that by using online dating services she has found a widower named Harry. All her neighbors are happy she actually met someone that she genuinely likes.

But what about those who are emotionally feeling isolated and experiencing severe emotional distress, and have no one to turn to? As a life saver, the most obvious solution would be going to a psychiatrist or a psychotherapist. In a less traumatic situation, just reaching out to someone can bring comfort to ease the pain and despair. Mental health experts suggest that whatever affects the mind will have a direct impact on the body, and support from others is vital in recovering one’s emotional equilibrium on a long-term basis.

However, in any society, anything related to mental health — whether one suffers from mental illness, mild to severe depression, or from the emotional trauma of losing a loved one is often associated with humiliation. People are stigmatized because of many misconceptions about mental illness, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or major depression. After losing a loved one, the feeling of trauma and grief often goes hand in hand. It is more so after the death of a spouse. For some people it takes years to recover from the pain; they tend to become withdrawn, depressed and isolated. They don’t want to seek help nor do they allow others to get them help. More often than not such people refuse to go and see a mental health professional, and getting grief counseling sounds like a preposterous idea. A person who is suffering for a prolong periods of time remains in denial for as long as he/she can. He/she usually perceives it shameful to talk about mental health when experiencing severe anxiety or any major emotional ordeal.

A recent study in 2018 revealed that traumatic events are more common in the lives of women than men. Why? “Simply because women are subjected to specific types of trauma with a much higher overall conditional risk of PTSD. Men on the other hand are more likely to encounter traumas such as physical assault, accidents, disaster, and combat or to see death and injury.”

Few months ago, in a lifestyle magazine, I read an article about a woman who was undergoing enormous amount of psychological turmoil after the breakup of a romantic relationship. Her hope of having a life with the man of her dreams was not meant to be. The relationship ended in the most dishonest, cruel and deceitful way. The boyfriend took no responsibility and simply abandoned her without any regrets. In her reclusive state, she had no one to help her through it. She got no emotional support from anyone she could trust. It seemed her boyfriend definitely was responsible for pushing her to a dark place. Unable to cope with what had happened; she sort of curled up and went inside her. Few months on, she got tired of feeling sorry for herself and started to surf the Net. She found a support group called “I Have a Broken Heart,” and formed a close bond with some of the members. After months of online group discussions, and by sharing her story, she came out of the rejection by overriding all the bitterness and even by forgiving the person responsible for putting her through an emotional rollercoaster. Though her past relationship was a failure, she rather learnt that her value comes from who she is as a person, as opposed to who she is with. Feeling empowered, now she is investing her time and energy in becoming an inspirational speaker and thinking of becoming a life coach.

This is one success story.

From what I have seen over the years, often the inability to handle a devastating outcome can crush a person, and that creates a vicious cycle of feeling less than worthy. That feeling surely can have an adverse effect on both mind and body. To manage everyday anxieties and for the overall wellbeing, one needs both body and mind skills. For a distressed person, it is important to seek out help by finding the right support group.

support group

A support group whether it is in person, through Facebook, the Internet, or talking to a close friend on the telephone, can provide emotional comfort, moral support and tips to help one cope with one’s downward and challenging situation. Through the sharing process, one can develop a trusting relationship with others which enables him/her to speak honestly and freely. By unburdening one’s interpersonal concerns in a group setting, one can convey to others that they are not alone and that helps the traumatized person find the strength and ability to lead an enriched life.

From my readings of numerous medical journals, I have come to understand that after any kind of trauma, the feeling of enormous dark emptiness can paralyze a person emotionally. If a problem remains unaddressed, undiagnosed and untreated then deep psychological issues can emerge that may result in staying in a psychiatric facility for years. Sometimes that hospital stay can last for the duration of their lifetime.

In America, because of fast-paced life, a family member suffering from depression or other psychological problems can go unnoticed for years. Often that person chooses to suffer silently, without revealing it to anyone. In broken families, a mother trying to make ends meet will often ignore or miss the warning signs or symptoms and a cry for help from her child that are visible to a naked eye. Because of the complexities of growing up, during teenage years, some teenagers get emotionally confused, and they experience emotional pain, feel alone and unloved. They feel they have no control over their situation and to ease the suffering they sometimes choose suicide as their solution to problems.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Help is out there if one wants to find it. Many nonprofit organizations, hospitals and mental health clinics usually form a support group. Often it starts with an initiative of one person. The dilemma starts when a person who needs help refuses to go to therapy. I know someone who has been trying for the past 5 years to send her twenty-four year old son to a rehabilitation center for heroin and crystal meth addiction. He simply refuses to go. Family intervention had resulted in sending him to a rehab once but upon release he fell off the wagon again after a period of abstinence. Now he is basically homebound and sleeps most of the day. Many families live with such problems, unable to find any solution. Quite often, marriages fall apart; families go bankrupt in paying for very expensive (inpatient & outpatient) rehabs for substance-dependent children.

With an adult child, a forced intervention is a difficult thing to do. But through family mediations, an alcoholic or an addict can recover by going to support groups like Alcoholic Anonymous, and Narcotics Anonymous. The recovery process is very long, and a constant struggle when they follow the twelve step programs. There are professional counselors and mental health experts who donate their time to help suffering people learn coping skills. In a group setting, it is easy to open up about the bottled up feelings to battle the challenges.

Some drug addicts are able to hide their habits from everyone. A lot of addicts have day jobs where no one knows about it. They sometimes decide to get clean when their lives spiral out of control; they join a support group to learn coping mechanisms in carrying out their daily routines. Recovering addicts have to continue with a group or individual therapy. Without that there is a definite possibility of relapse. I read that anything can trigger a relapse. The recovering addicts live with that fear on a daily basis. For many of them, it is very hard to balance a normal life without giving into temptations.

In the last few years, there has been a new epidemic in America where mid-20’s people, unable to find jobs return to their parent’s home. This is obviously a major blow to their ego and they suffer from low self-esteem and severe social anxiety. They do not want to socialize with anyone, and remain a ‘shut- in’ often in the basement of their family home. They stay there for days at a time, and don’t at all leave the house. That person may find the supports he or she needs in a group where others can be of help without feeling unsafe or disrespected. It might be reassuring to meet others experiencing similar feelings. Once the paralyzing fear of the outside world is dealt with, a realistic goal for the future can be set to manage daily life. With the group members they can find social support in a difficult time.

Some people with relationship problems, suffering from mild depression or day to day stress sometimes do take an alternate approach by joining a Wellness Group. It has become a very cool new phenomenon in America in the last ten years. In their trendy exercise outfits, the members do intense Yoga, Pilates, and Body Toning moves. There they get some confirmation that whatever stress or anxiety they are feeling on that particular day is normal. In the way of letting off steam, they relate to one another in a similar situation which reduces the stress and feeling of helplessness. The powerless and vulnerable feelings are replaced by positive energy which is a great cure in fighting any interpersonal issues. By being together and through various exercise regimens, the group explores the connection between body and mind.

Why advocate? While I am in a self-questioning mode to find an effective rationale it reminds me of a quote by Dr. Seuss, “Unless someone like you cares a whole lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” People need support groups for all kinds of reasons. Starting from death of a loved one, depression, anxiety attacks, substance abuse, facing a major illness, relationship problems, burden of a stressful life, or a major life changing episode can overwhelm a person. Such an impact can weigh heavily on the psyche of that person. As a result, feelings of distress can affect a person’s mental and physical health. Getting these negative and debilitating feelings out in the open is crucial. In reducing stress responses one needs the ongoing support of others because no one can do it alone. A support group can be a very helpful tool to aid recovery.

Zeenat Khan writes from Maryland, USA




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