The Importance of Support Groups

The Importance of Support Groups

Chronic pain is an often times invisible illness that can make it incredibly difficult to connect with others, especially with those who may not truly understand what you’re experiencing. If you have chronic pain or a chronic illness, there are times when you might feel alone, depressed, or misunderstood. Maybe you’ve been accused of being overly dramatic, or “faking it” when you don’t feel well. This can be extremely upsetting.

You know that you’re in pain and/or sick, but no one else seems to get it including possibly your own family, spouse, or health care provider.

In this case, where can you turn for support, if the people who know you best have let you down? You can go to a traditional in person support group or you can join a free online support group. According to the Pew Peer-to-peer Healthcare report of 2011, approximately 23% of internet users living with a chronic condition report going online to find out how others copy and manage. As of 2012, there were at least 138,000 different online patient and caregiver groups in Yahoo’s “Health and Wellness” category alone.

What’s the point of a support group?

A support group may turn into the family you always wish you had: kind, supportive, and helpful. The best feature of any support group is the overall understanding of your situation. After all, these men and women walk in your shoes every day, with many of the same problems and frustrations. So, what are the main benefits of participating in an online support community?

  • Community members can validate your feelings
  • They give you hope, even in your deepest times of need.
  • They spur you on to keep coping and looking for pain relief even after you’re exhausted and want to give up.
  • They help you with daily living problems. For example, how do you arrange the pillows at night to get back support? What are recipes that are easy to prepare and nutritious?
  • They are available day or night. Are you up with intense pain at 2 am and feeling all alone? Log on and you’ll have company, your online friends can help you get through the night.
  • Sometimes, best of all, you get the satisfaction of helping others. You can reach out to others when they post questions, need an emotional lift, or just need to talk.

The bottom line? Nothing feels better than finally hearing someone say, “that happens to me too and I know exactly what you’re going through.” A good support group will help you feel understood and valued.

What should you look for?

When you first join an online support group, it can be tempting to jump right in and start posting messages, but it’s best to sit back for a few days first and see how the group works. For example:

  • Are new people welcomed?
  • Is there a group leader or moderator who keeps the discussion going, or provides guidance?
  • What happens if there’s a disagreement between some of the group members? Do people stay civil?
  • Are group members careful not to give medical advice, or push for members to buy certain products?
  • Are there only one or two members who post all the time, with everyone else “lurking” in the background?

There are some other issued to watch out for, too:

  • Some medical information that people post may be inaccurate, wrong, or even dangerous. Speak with your health care provider before trying any new treatments or products that you read about online.
  • Don’t become so addicted to online groups that you withdraw from your family and friends. Online relationships should never take the place of face-to-face contact.

Should you start your own group?

If you have a rare disease that doesn’t have many online support groups available, you might want to start your own. You’ll have a chance to make a big difference in the lives of other people, but you shouldn’t take this responsibility lightly. It takes work and a real time commitment to create a group and keep it running. There are websites that can give you detailed instruction; some links are at the end of this article. If you have a health issue that’s pretty common (like “chronic pain”), it might not make sense to add a new group to the growing stack. Try searching for a group that suits your needs; you can sort the groups by the number of members or how long each group has been around.

Support group links

Below are some support groups that you can look into and use for a great starting place. Happy networking!

The American Chronic Pain Association

Chronic Pain Support Group

Pain Community

WE GO health

Patients Like Me

Daily Strength

Don’t let chronic pain steal another day! Call Dr. Adrian C. Dumitru, he’s a board certified and fellowship trained pain management specialist. To learn more, or to schedule an appointment please call (713) 461-8555 or visit www.houstonpainservices.com

About the author...

Adrian C. Dumitru, M.D., began his 27-year journey toward mastering the complexities of pain management by becoming an anesthesiologist. In pain management, a field where everyone from family therapists to general practitioners often participate, Dr. Dumitru saw the need for a physician with his particular expertise to oversee a multi-disciplinary approach.

View All By Dr. Adrian Dumitru

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