South Africa is spotlighted as one of the countries grappling severely with mental health issues. This according to a revelation from the second Annual Mental State of the World Report provided by Sapien Labs in March 2022.
The study gathered opinions from more than 223 000 internet users across 34 nations, indicating a pressing concern that can’t be overlooked.
During Support Group Awareness Week, from January 22 to 28, the South African Depression and Anxiety Group has stepped forward to shed some light on the significance of support groups.
These groups stand as pillars for those seeking solace and recovery in parts of their lives yearning for support and healing.
It’s quite normal when we’re going through difficult situations, it can be a natural instinct for some individuals to withdraw and isolate themselves from others.
However, many mental health professionals and experts advise against isolation because at its worst, despair can lead to suicidal thoughts or tendencies to harm ourselves in some way.
According to the World Health Organisation suicide is the fourth leading cause of death among 15 to 29-year-olds.
But, what exactly is a support group? Imagine a sanctuary where individuals, linked by shared hardships and concerns, come together to offer each other emotional strength and encouragement. It’s a space where empathy flows without judgement and community thrives.
Members of these groups exchange stories, share their emotions, and lived experiences, wisdom from the collective experiences of their peers.
The dynamic isn't about lecturing but about mutual learning, where each person is both teacher and student, an expert in their own journey and life lessons.
We’ve all been there — rushing to solve the problems of those who confide in us - and forgetting the simple, potent act of listening. Being there, offering an ear, can be transformative, especially in a setting of people who truly get it.
These groups empower their members by normalising shared experiences and exchanging helpful coping strategies, combating the often paralysing sense of isolation that can accompany mental health challenges.
A support group strives to enhance your resilience and minimise feelings of loneliness by creating connections with those on similar paths. While it’s not a substitute for medical care, it's an invaluable supplement in navigating life's turmoil.
Human nature yearns for connection, yet depression can sever these vital ties, leading to an overwhelming sense of solitude and misunderstanding. Fear of stigma and judgement only compounds this withdrawal.
Committing to join or establish a support group is a courageous act of re-engagement, of choosing relationship over retreat. For anyone navigating the rough waters of mental health, it's worth considering the anchor that a support group could provide.
Different types of support groups
It's no secret that life's challenges can often feel overwhelming, but the power of community and shared experiences can provide a beacon of hope.
Various support groups peppered throughout South Africa offer just that — an opportunity for individuals to gather, connect, and uplift each other through some of life's most trying times.
Whether you're a teacher or student dealing with mental health issues, someone recovering from a hospital stay, or facing the daily hurdles of depression, anxiety, or cancer, there's a place for you to find understanding and companionship.
For instance, students and educators can log in to a virtual meeting space every first Friday at 4pm, while those recovering from surgery or injuries can catch up on Teams every first Tuesday at 12pm.
At the Faith Baptist Church in eMalahleni/Witbank, you'll find a group, especially for those battling depression or bipolar disorder, converging every second and fourth Monday from 6pm to 7pm.
For families touched by the challenges of cancer, St Thomas Anglican Church in Rondebosch, Cape Town, becomes a haven every second Sunday at 2pm.
The young transgender community isn't left behind either, with a dedicated online gathering every second Monday at 7pm.
Meanwhile, those grappling with depression in Sterkstroom, Chris Hani Municipality, Eastern Cape, can find solace at the community church centre on the first Friday of every month at 3pm.
While support groups offer vital fellowship, it’s important to distinguish them from group therapy.
“Support groups and group therapy may seem similar, but group therapy is led by a trained professional and might be the primary treatment for mental health issues," clarifies the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag).
“Support groups, on the other hand, act as an additional support network and are usually led by patients and those experienced with personal mental health challenges, not necessarily as healthcare providers.”
But why are these support groups so crucial for our neighbourhoods? They're more than just a gathering; they're an empowering experience that lets you reclaim control and nurtures a non-judgmental, equal setting where everyone can share similar life problems.
They strengthen a sense of belonging, reminding you that you're not alone in your struggle. These groups ensure privacy and provide a lifeline against isolation by offering compassionate ears and shoulders to lean on.
Beyond emotional support, they're also rich in information and practical coping strategies.
Ending the stigma attached to mental health and fostering a nurturing community are the pillars on which support groups stand. They're a testament to how shared pain can strengthen bonds and how empathy, understanding, and collective wisdom can light the path to coping and healing.
So if you or your loved ones are wrestling with life's curves, remember: support is just a meeting away.