Meeting Up for Fun and Recovery
As a grassroots organization, NAMI has long believed in the power of numbers. When it comes to mental illness, peer support is one of the strongest pillars of recovery, and now peer support is gaining more acceptance among researchers and doctors. U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said, “Today we are getting the word out that support from friends and family can make a difference in helping people overcome [mental] illnesses.”
A recent article in the Chicago Tribune discussed why peer support works: People who have been through similar experiences create an accepting environment, peer groups tend to be informal and participants feel good when they can help others with their problems. NAMI Connection is one model for peer support that is available in NAMI State Organizations and Affiliates across the country.
Peer support groups can be helpful, but unstructured fun plays a major part in recovery as well. Learning how to take an interest in things again, being willing to take risks and getting out of your comfort zone with like-minded people are all essential life skills. These aspects of socializing can be daunting for someone recovering from mental illness; someone who needs support and acceptance more than ever but may feel like the stakes are higher as well. Will social situations require you to explain highly personal matters about your recovery? Will re-entering the social scene set you up for rejection?
It’s important to recognize that not only people living with mental illness struggle with social isolation. Studies have found that Americans in general have fewer intimate relationships. While some point fingers at the Internet for this isolation, there are a number of online resources aimed at connecting people living with mental illness, including the NAMI discussion forums, NAMI’s StrengthofUs.org (targeted at increasing support for 18-25-year-olds), BringChange2Mind.org and SAMHSA’s What a Difference a Friend Makes website..
The answer to finding more friends and more fun may lie in seeking out face-to-face time with others who have had similar experiences with mental illness, much like the online supports mentioned above. Meetup.com is an Internet resource that can help bridge the gap between virtual friends and activity partners in your local community. Meet-up groups have been founded in many areas for people living with mental illness, and specific conditions like depression and Borderline Personality Disorder.
With the many types of peer support available, each person living with mental illness should know that they have options for finding connections and giving and receiving support.