I have capital-D Depression, as long-time readers already know. The past couple of years have been among the worst of my life, as far as my mental health goes. On the (excellent) advice of (excellent) friends, I recently joined a local Depression Support Group. There's still quite a lot of stigma attached to things like that, and I know a lot of people will be hesitant about doing the same thing themselves because they don't know how it works or what will happen.
To that end, I thought I should throw up a quick post in which I describe my own experiences, in the hope that it will help others.
The first question, I suppose, is ‘Did it help?’. The answer is an unequivocal ‘Yes’. It’s great to be in a room full of people, all of whom instinctively understand what you’re going through. You also know for certainty that none of them are judging you and that you’re not being a burden on anyone for spilling your guts (should you choose to do so).
It works both ways, of course. You’re going to hear complete strangers tell you some of the most intimate, personal things. You’re expected to listen, and give respect. If you want to, you can also give comments and advice, although that’s not obligatory. What’s said in the room stays in the room, and everyone is asked to abide by the same level of confidentiality.
Going to a group like this is not going to “cure” you. It’s not a therapy session. It’s closer to self-help, really, in that just being able to offload can sometimes be a help in and of itself. Some people in the group might offer you advice - and you’re free to take it or leave it if they do - but generally the idea is just that people listen.
My group is organised by a local charity - Action On Depression - and as such it’s usually facilitated by a trained leader. In truth, though, the group is basically self-managing. The format is pretty simple. At the start of the evening, you’re asked to write your name on a piece of paper, along with a “score” of 1 - 10 to represent your current mood (10 being euphoria and 1 being despair). We then start with the person on the lowest score, and ask if they’d like to say anything. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t. If somebody doesn’t want to speak, that’s fine. Nobody’s going to force you to say anything, so if you just want to come along and listen, you’re quite entitled to do so.
Most people do speak, though, and what they actually say varies wildly from person to person. Sometimes, they’ll be giving an update on how they've been over the past couple of weeks (my group meets fortnightly). Others might talk about a new medication they've been prescribed, and how it’s affecting them. Others might talk generally about their mood and the problems they face.
Sometimes, somebody will need to speak about a horrible experience they've gone through. There are people in my group who've experienced trauma and abuse, both physical and mental, and it’s difficult to hear them speak about it. Those that have the bravery to do so are rewarded, I think, with the catharsis that comes from simply speaking a thing out loud, but also with a room full of people every one of whom is giving them a metaphorical thumbs up and a hug.
I was initially worried that a well-established group such as the one I attend would have its own cliques and insulated groups, and wouldn't necessarily be very welcoming to newcomers. I was totally wrong about that. There are people there who have obviously been attending the group for some time, and already know each other well. There are usually one or two new faces every single week, though, and the group as a whole couldn't be more welcoming.
Deciding to go along to a group like this is not always the easiest thing to do, but if you’re thinking about it I’d strongly encourage you to take the plunge. It’s helped me immeasurably.
The group I attend is run by Action On Depression, and takes place on alternate Tuesdays at The Methodist Church, Nicolson Square, Edinburgh (it’s nothing to do with the church - that’s just the venue we use). Dates for 2016 are 16/2/16, 1/3/16, 15/3/16 29/3/16, 5/4/16, 19/4/16, and fortnightly thereafter. If you’re thinking of attending, and want to meet me for a coffee beforehand, I’d be happy to do so. Send me an email and we’ll arrange something.