Friends and family have much more invested in your well-being than any third party, including your psychiatrist or therapist, but other people who have bipolar may be able to offer much more in terms of empathy, insight, and connections. Bipolar support groups can offer the following perks:
Camaraderie with people who share your experiences and emotions
Understanding that a mood disorder doesn't define who you are
Motivation to follow your treatment plan
Opportunity to rediscover strengths and humor you thought you lost when you became ill
Insider information on medications, treatments, and therapies
First-hand perspectives of local doctors and therapists
Information about your legal rights
Tips about education and IEPs (Individualized Education Plans) for children with bipolar disorder
Access to credible books and videos about bipolar
You can tap in to the resources a support group offers by joining one. Organizations such as the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) and the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) sponsor support groups in most cities and many towns to help people with mental illnesses find peer support and encourage advocacy. To find out about support groups in your area, contact the following organizations:
Bipolar UK: Call 020-7931-6480.
Church: Many churches provide meeting places for support groups, including those affiliated with DBSA and NAMI.
Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance: Call 800-826-3632.
Local mental health centers: Most states and large counties have mental health services that can refer you to support groups in your area.
Mental Health America: Call 800-969-6642.
MIND: Enter your location or postcode to find a local support group.
National Alliance on Mental Illness: Call 800-950-6264 or go to their website to find contact information for local NAMI affiliates.
Your psychiatrist or therapist: Ask your psychiatrist or therapist for information about local support groups.
What can you expect when you walk into your first support group session? That depends on the composition of the group and its organization. Some groups are more structured than others. Some invite experts in the field to give presentations; others encourage members to talk about their emotions and engage in group problem solving. Generally, you can expect members to be very open, welcoming, and willing to lend an empathetic ear.
Every support group has its own chemistry and dynamic, so don't give up if you feel out of place at the first one you visit. Try a few groups until you find one that feels comfortable. And if you don't like support groups, that's okay, too; not everyone is comfortable in a support group setting.