Earlier, I wrote about the benefits of support groups for partners of people with mental illness. Today I have some tips for how to go about selecting an appropriate group.

I’m not going to lie and say that every support group is terrific and that no matter where you go, it’ll be a positive experience. I will tell you that doing some homework, like you did when researching your partner’s illness, will go a long way in your actually getting support from a group.

What to look for in a support group:

  1. What is the focus of the group? Is the group relevant for your situation?
  2. Who is leading the group? Many support groups, such as NAMI’s Family-to-Family program, are led by family members of people with mental illness, or lay people who have a lot of knowledge about the illness, and are often not trained professionals. Support groups are not the same as group therapy.
  3. Is the group open or closed? An open group means you can join at any time. A closed group means that there are openings for new members only at certain times, and you are usually committing to attend the group for its duration, which can be several weeks to months.
  4. How convenient is the group meeting time and place? Like anything else, if you have to struggle to get there, it’s probably not going to work. On the other hand, how committed are you to learning about your partner’s illness and helping yourself cope? If you absolutely can’t attend a group in person, how about online?
  5. How much does the group cost? Usually for a support group, there is no charge. If there is, it may be a donation to the organization sponsoring the group.

Depending on the situation you are facing, finding support groups may or may not be a challenge. Certain illnesses, such as substance abuse, have more support groups available than other illnesses. Don’t give up if you can’t find one right away, as there are online options as well.

Some resources for locating support groups:

For people who have attended support groups, what other tips would you give about finding a good group?