If you have a mental health condition, you might find it helpful to join a peer support group. With mental health, a patient often has to rely on input from peers to legitimize one’s symptoms and reactions to those symptoms. Without a peer support group, it is possible for a patient to develop more severe symptoms because there is no one to validate what the patient is feeling at the time.
Here are some of the more important benefits you can experience if you join a peer support group, such as that of Portneuf Valley Family Center.
Patient Feels Safer
One of the hallmarks of mental illness is that the patient may develop fear and anxiety due to the symptoms. If the patient has a peer support group, it is possible for the fear and anxiety to be reduced to manageable levels. Of course, there is no substitute for the counsel of a psychiatrist if the symptoms are caused by a physiological change in the patient. The patient may also seek counseling from a good psychologist, once the psychiatrist deems the patient is stable again.
Patient May Become More Comfortable Sharing Emotions and Symptoms
A patient who is experiencing some kind of crisis may benefit from a peer support group that is ready to hear about emotions and symptoms felt. Although the peer support group may not be able to eliminate the symptoms, the patient may feel better just telling someone about those emotions and symptoms.
It should be noted that some peer support groups have at least one family member of each patient in attendance during sessions. However, some peer support groups do not have family members attending their sessions. Choosing between these two options is up to the patient because the patient might feel more at ease discussing emotions and feelings if there are no family members in attendance.
Patient Is Less At Risk of Being Hospitalized
There are times when a patient may experience such overwhelming emotions and feelings that the psychiatrist may feel the patient should be hospitalized right away. However, the peer support group of the psychiatrist may absorb some of the impacts of the latest episode so that the patient need not be hospitalized yet. This is good for the patient on a financial level because confinement in a mental health facility is rather expensive. It is also good for the patient on an emotional and psychological level since the peer support group may be able to offer emotional and psychological support.
Patient May Feel More In Control of their Life
One aspect of mental health that is necessary for a patient’s continued sense of well-being is to be able to control life factors. For example, if the patient can attend peer support group sessions regularly, the patient may feel that at least they are able to readily control that part of their life. Having a sense of control over factors influencing life is necessary if the patient is going to be able to face life’s challenges on their own.
Patient May Be Able to Function in Society
A patient who is actively participating in a peer support group may find it easier to carry out functional tasks in a societal setting. One of these tasks is to find and keep a well-paying job that will allow the patient to be semi-independent. If the patient has no family or living relatives, the peer support group may be able to function as a kind of extended family of the patient. This means the peer support group can assist the patient in tasks such as looking for a home to stay in. This type of semi-independence is desirable for a mental patient because the patient will feel more self-esteem after being able to function for some time alone.
Patient May Be Able to Enter into More Stable and Healthier Relationships
A patient who can function somewhat semi-independently may eventually gain enough confidence to enter into more stable and intimate relationships. This may mean making new friends, especially in the workplace. Eventually, the patient may also be stable enough to enter into closer and healthier relationships such as marriage. It is advisable though for the patient to continue consulting the psychiatrist and/or psychologist in charge of the patient throughout the relationship with others.
Patient May Learn to Practice Self-Care Even Away from the Group
Since the purpose of a peer support group is to foster the ability of the patient to practice self-care, the patient’s confidence may grow too. The patient may feel strong enough to take on a daily routine that incorporates self-care throughout the patient’s schedule. Common tasks such as cooking meals, commuting to work, taking care of children, and even going to church services all become possible if the patient feels strong enough mentally, emotionally, and psychologically. This is proof that the patient is improving and may eventually learn to function independently of the group itself.
Patient May Eventually Become a Mentor to Other Patients
If the patient has been keeping up with the peer support group regularly, in time the patient may be able to offer some advice or support to other members of the group. This is why the peer support group was created actually. This way, the patient is able to see that they have something valuable to contribute to the group. In the same way, others in the group may be able to offer help and support during the patient’s time of need. Since there is a mutual benefit, most likely the patient will feel that it is in their best interest to keep participating in the peer support group sessions.
Patient May Learn to Manage Expectations from Life and Relationships
Mental illness is something that is difficult to explain to people who may have never encountered a mental health patient before. The peer support group may give the patient the tools to manage their expectations about life in general and relationships in particular. This means the patient should be able to understand and accept when others are not sympathetic or empathetic towards the patient. The patient will develop a more accurate set of expectations from others.
This will help the patient to function better with others. The patient should also learn from the peer support group about how to react and what to do when other people outside the group criticize the patient. This is especially important if those other people do not know that the patient has mental health issues.
Should A Patient Choose a Peer Support Group Over Psychoanalysis and Counseling?
First of all, psychoanalysis and counseling are options for patients who have some mental health issues. Psychoanalysis is often done by a psychiatrist to discern the root causes of a patient’s behavior, namely, the physiological reasons that cause a patient to behave and react in a certain way. A psychiatrist has a degree in Medicine and is licensed to handle such physiological problems. On the other hand, a counselor is often a psychologist who is trained to provide counseling once the patient’s physiological reasons for behavior are stabilized.
So, this means that a patient should first be seen by a qualified psychiatrist to determine the physiological reasons for the behavior. Once the psychiatrist feels that the patient is stable enough and possibly under medication, this doctor may then recommend counseling sessions with a psychologist.
The psychologist has two options: provide one-on-one counseling sessions only or to recommend group therapy (peer support group sessions) as a complement to the counseling sessions. It is up to the psychologist to find the right groups to provide peer support for the patient. This is a good way to re-introduce societal support to the patient and to the patient’s guardians.
Although it can be quite expensive paying for all three options (seeing a psychiatrist, consulting a psychologist, and going to group therapy sessions), the combination of these three may prove helpful than choosing just one. But since many mental health patients come from disadvantaged backgrounds (such as being part of the urban poor population), it may be advisable for the guardian of the patient to seek non-profit peer support groups to lessen the financial burden. There might also be government-supported psychiatrists and psychologists who offer their services free since it is subsidized by taxpayers, in the country where the patient lives and works.
In any relationship, the fundamental basis of communication is trust and respect. If you are looking for a peer support group to help you cope with life problems, it is important to bear in mind those two factors. If you are now under the care of a psychiatrist and/or a psychologist for some mental, emotional and/or psychological problems, you should consult that professional if you would like to try being in a good peer support group.
You can try being in the peer support group for the first few sessions at the start, just to see if the people you will be involved with are trustworthy and will respect your opinions. Once you are comfortable with the way things are developing, then you might try divulging some information to see how they react. Remember, you are not obliged to reveal highly sensitive aspects of your life to the peer support group if you don’t want to. Hopefully, you will find the right peer support group to help you cope with whatever problems seem to be getting in your way.