What to Know About Depression Support Groups

Mixed-race young adult woman talking in group therapy session

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If you’re experiencing depression, you might be feeling alone in your pain. You may think no one else understands what you’re going through or that your loved ones just can’t relate to your experiences—even when they’re well-intentioned.

If this is the case, you might consider joining a depression support group. While a support group isn’t a substitute for medication and therapy, it can be a helpful addition to your treatment plan.

Should You Join a Support Group?

Support groups are usually free of charge. This means they can be accessed by people who lack insurance or those who want added support yet can’t afford to attend therapy.

Support groups don’t have to be a substitute for other depression treatments, like medication or individual therapy. Instead, they can be an additional means of help for someone who is looking for added support.

Social support can be a key factor in reducing depression. Individuals who meet others that can relate to their experiences may feel better about themselves.

Support group members can also be a rich source of information. You might learn about strategies that help other individuals, such as how changes to their diet can impact their mood or how they’re using online therapy to feel better.

You might also be able to ask other members questions like:

  • Did you tell your boss about your depression?
  • Do you have any side effects from your medication?
  • Do you feel like your therapist understands you?
  • How long did it take until your medication felt effective?
  • How do you explain your situation to friends and family?
  • What do you say to people who tell you to “get over it?”
  • How do you maintain a healthy relationship when you’re feeling depressed?
  • How do you motivate yourself to get anything done?
  • Are there any books, podcasts, or resources that you find helpful?
  • Do you find that exercise or yoga helps you feel better?

In-Person Support Group Basics

Most support groups have a moderator or several moderators. These moderators are usually peers who have dealt with depression or who may still be experiencing depression.

Many groups meet at designated days and times. Meetings are often held in community centers, churches, or hospitals. The frequency will vary, but they usually take place weekly or even monthly.

Group members may be invited to share their personal experiences. And there may be guest speakers at times, such as therapists or individuals sharing their stories. Each group determines its own format, rules, and expectations.

In general, support groups should be a good source of practical information, emotional support, and encouragement.

Online Support Group Basics

Some depression groups take place online. Groups may meet virtually, or they might include discussion boards where members can read or share messages at any time of day or night.

An online group may also be helpful to people in rural areas where in-person groups aren’t readily available. And it may help individuals who are struggling to leave their homes due to depression or those who lack the transportation to attend in-person meetings.

Online groups also alleviate other potential obstacles to attending in-person groups, such as the need for members to get childcare.

They can be a good option for individuals who also struggle with anxiety—and would feel too anxious to attend a group in person.

Some people may appreciate the ability to read and create messages at any time of day or night through online message boards or chat rooms.

In addition, online depression support groups may be beneficial to people whose experiences are less common. For example, new mothers might benefit from an online support group for individuals specifically experiencing postpartum depression. While it may be difficult to find enough individuals in a local group who are experiencing it, an online group might be able to bring more mothers together.

Online groups can cater to other specific populations as well, such as people experiencing depression after divorce or young people with depression.

The potential drawbacks of online forums may be that they aren’t moderated. Feedback or comments from other members may not be helpful—or even accurate. Therefore, some individuals might find that online forums aren’t all that beneficial.

Also, the benefits of attending an in-person group over an online group might include the ability to have face-to-face social contact. For some people, getting out of the house and interacting with others is a key component to managing symptoms of depression.

Where to Find a Support Group

Ask your physician or therapist for information on where to find a support group. They may be able to recommend a group or direct you to someone who can help you find one.

You can also try online support group directories:

  • Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance: The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance offers information about online and in-person support groups. You can enter your zip code into the database to find a group near you.
  • SAMHSA’s National Helpline: The National Helpline is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days per year. This helpline can assist you in finding treatment and support groups in your area.
  • Depressed Anonymous: Depressed Anonymous offers daily online support groups based on the 12 Steps. Anyone can share their experiences with the group.

A Word From Verywell

If you are concerned about what to expect at your first in-person or online meeting, you may be able to reach out to the moderator or organizer to ask questions.

While each group is run in its own way, you might be able to just listen the first time you attend. It’s unlikely that anyone will ask you to share your story or request you to talk about anything that may cause you discomfort. If you don’t wish to speak, and someone asks you to do so, you can always say you don’t feel comfortable speaking right now.

Be willing to attend a few meetings before making up your mind. The first meeting or two may take a little getting used to. And your depression might try to convince you that you’re wasting your time or that being there won’t help. But once you’ve attended a couple of meetings, you might find that a support group can help you manage your symptoms.

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