A few months ago, a spokesperson for a “mental health advocacy organization” likened support groups to appendectomy patients performing surgery on one another. I said nothing at the time, but the remark and all the errors it entails have led me to consider how my support groups help me.
The claim that support groups seek to replace medical treatment is erroneous. DBSA South Orange County, like many other support groups of its kind, has issued a disclaimer indicating that our peer-run support groups are no substitute for a doctor’s care. This fact by itself defeats the glib assertion made above. We don’t try to cure people of their depression or their bipolar disorder. There are people with better skills for doing that than we.
What we offer is a safe place where people can talk about their struggles with the illness. Doctors and therapists know how to treat, but they don’t know what it is like to undergo treatment. They don’t encounter stigma. They have not experienced the catastrophic loss of community that can happen when one is diagnosed with a mental illness, when friends and family members run away.