While mental health professionals do not always agree on the best treatment for depression, bipolar disorder and anxiety, there is one area of treatment where everyone seems to agree. This is the benefit of support groups in promoting recovery for people suffering from mental health disorders–either as an adjunct to therapy or alone. Numerous studies of such programs consistently show the following benefits: reduced symptoms, reduced substance abuse, reduction in hospitalizations, improved social skills, increased self-esteem and healthy behaviors.
For the past eleven years, I have facilitated “healing from depression and anxiety support groups” in Portland, Oregon and have witnessed all of these improvements in group members. I have seen people who were stuck for weeks, months or even years make remarkable progress once they came out of isolation and joined with fellow sufferers in their quest for healing. As Alcoholics Anonymous says about their meetings, “Let us do together what we cannot do alone.” There is an uncanny similarity between what occurs in my depression support groups and what occurs in AA and other twelve step meetings. Thus, it is through coming together to heal in community that both the addict and the depressive find relief from their afflictions.
This week I read an article in the New York Times about a man who was accused of going to Internet chat rooms and encouraging people who were suicidal to commit suicide. As someone who works with depressed people, I found this act to be beyond belief, especially since this person was a nurse.
When someone is suicidal, he or she needs to told the opposite–i.e., “Don’t act on your impulses, because the pain you now experience is passing, and then you will feel like living again.”
When my clients have followed this advice, things have turned out well. One man who was bent on taking his life eight years ago resisted the temptation (with help from others) and is how happily married and enjoying life. From his current perspective, his previous suicidal pain is but a distant memory.
The moral of the story is clear. Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. The problem is temporary because nothing stays the same forever. What goes down must come up. The dark moods of depression will pass if you can find a way to hang in there. As they say in AA, “Don’t give up five minutes before the miracle!”