How A Support Group Can Help

Lew Mills, PhD, MFT was the chapter coordinator and a psychotherapist for Adults with ADHD in San Francisco.

Maybe you already have someone to talk to about medication. You may also have a therapist to help you learn new ways of coping with your or your child’s ADHD. What would you want to use a support group for? How much can a person just talk about these things?

Of course a support group may have been your starting point to set up some of those resources above. You may have asked others for suggestions about doctors, school issues and so on. A support group can even be a source of information on more arcane issues, such as figuring out what’s the latest time of day for taking a medication without ruining that night’s sleep. Often a support group is the first place you begin to put these things in order. But there is more to what a support group can do than just sharing information.

Think about a support group in terms of these two different functions: information and support. For the first — though a lot of information is available on the internet now — none of it has the interactivity of asking peers and following up with questions to really develop a first hand sense of how things are in the real world. Even seasoned hands at ADHD will learn things about the practical matters of ADHD management. The second, and sometimes overlooked, function of a support group is the support you get from and give to others.

Many people do not know how important this support can be. Even when you are fairly swamped, you can tell yourself that you are getting along OK. And if you do not need some new information, you may not see a need for a support group. It may seem that just going and hearing about other people in the same situation as you doesn’t solve any problems. Maybe it will just make you feel worse, you wonder.

But support goes a lot farther than just blowing of some steam about your frustrations. Support can have real effects on your well-being, not just on your “feeling better.” Studies of people with very serious medical problems showed that being in a support group actually improved their health and chances of survival. That is no small matter. The mechanisms by which it helps are subtle but powerful.

One of the key elements of attending a support group is realizing that what you are going through is not so lonely and unique as it feels. Many others have been in these same places. Some aspects of what you are experiencing are universal. Breaking out of your isolation and connecting with others can be a huge relief.

Support also means that there are others who understand what you are going through and care about your success. Even though the people at a support group start out as strangers, they will be involved in your story just as you will be in theirs. A shared burden feels much lighter. Furthermore, when you can help others, it empowers you. You will have been having an experience of not being able to control a lot of things. Being able to give to others is an area where you do have a lot of control, and this can be an antidote to some of the frustration you may experience.

It could be that you have been burdening your friends with some of your struggles and eventually it starts to feel unequal or that they are losing interest. Also, they may not understand, even though they would like to. You can use the support group to lighten up the load on your other friendships and be in a more equal give-and-take with your support group peers.

Sometimes it is uncomfortable or intimidating talking about your troubles with a group of people you have only recently met. But the mutual support, not to mention the information sharing, can be an invaluable aide in starting to get your life back on track. Don’t miss out on this opportunity!

See the CHADD calendar for a support group that meets near you. If there are none, think about starting one. Contact us to find out how.