Trying to Find the Right Support Group

Last Updated: 20 Feb 2019

Finding a support group can be difficult, let alone one that fits your personality. It’s still worth it though to check out local resources.

Since my diagnosis of bipolar disorder in 1995, I have always felt that something has been missing. I have attended years of therapy, and have a great deal of family support, which has definitely paid off and helped me live a very stable life. I work hard at maintaining stability by taking my medicine, getting eight to 10 hours of sleep, and exercising.

With all that being said, I long for more. I think as humans we want to be understood. I’d be rich if I had a dollar for every time I have yelled “You just don’t understand what it’s like to have bipolar disorder” to my parents or husband. I want people to understand how I feel. Though I am surrounded by many friends, sometimes I wonder if they really “get” me.

Finding a support group

Here in Las Vegas we have two support groups––that meet at psychiatric hospitals. I have a fear of any kind of hospital as it is. It is only by the act and grace of God that I have managed to avoid hospitalization. Trust me, there were many times when I should have been hospitalized.

It took me a while to even set foot on the grounds of the hospital. I had sweaty palms driving there and anxiety the whole time. Then, I could not find the right door. Fortunately, a guard soon appeared, and he helped me enter the locked lobby. It was interesting to discover that there were two rooms: one for the families of those living with mental illness and one for the people who have mental illness. For some reason, he pegged me as a person who belonged in the family support group room. Looks can be deceiving, but that is a whole different blog.

I stayed that night and heard many heartbreaking stories from families. I shared my success with the group, in an attempt to bring someone in the room hope. The families begged me to come back and attend the meeting for the people who had mental illnesses just like me.

I mustered up the courage and did go back to another meeting, but I felt like I didn’t really fit in. My Christian faith is how I have gotten this far. It anchors me, but I didn’t feel this group was receptive to me discussing religion. Additionally, alarms were going off on the different floors during the meeting, which really freaked me out.

Creating your own support group

After this experience, I decided to start a spiritual mental health support group. This was no easy task. First, I started at a spirituality center we have in town. The director loved my idea.  There was a missing element through: I needed a psychologist to co-lead the group, but neither of us knew anyone. Instead, the director asked me to start a book club. I had no time for that.

I tried to talk to my pastor at my old church. Unfortunately, there was no room at the inn, so to speak. The church did not even have meeting rooms. And once again, I couldn’t find a psychologist to co-lead.

So, I met with a priest at another church to pitch my idea. He shared my idea with the main pastor of the church, who liked the concept. I still needed a psychologist to help lead, but this time though, there was someone willing to help out. There was actually a psychologist from the parish who had coincidentally wanted to start a mental health support group.

I modeled the group I started off a support group that meets in Colorado, and we advertise in our church’s bulletin:

“For those who suffer from mental illness, as well as those who do not, it can be difficult to navigate through all that is going on in our world today. People can feel overwhelmed, isolated, and even traumatized by current and/or past events. Sometimes we feel no one understands how difficult it is to cope. To this end, our church is offering a chance for those who need this support to come together in a safe place to talk and to listen to one another.”

The running of the group is very simple. We all go around and talk about the challenges and celebrations that our lives bring. Then if one of the group members wants to say something to help, we ask the speaker if they would like feedback. People can choose to pass as well, so not everyone has to share. We meet twice a month.

 I LOVE my group, especially because it is open to so many people, not just people like me with bipolar. Because it is a drop-in group, we have both regulars and people who come and go. I appreciate getting input and advice from people other than my mother. The psychologist I lead with is the best. I always feel that after going to the group, my perspective changes. It’s like a load has been taken off my back.

I have learned that when it comes to mental health groups, it is all about the right fit. If you have an opportunity to go to a group in your community, I recommend that you check it out. And if you can’t find one that works for you, you can always do what I did, and start your own.

About the author
Susan Johnson was diagnosed bipolar 1 in 1995. She graduated from Drake University with a B.A. in Sociology. She is the author of “Some Dreams Are Worth Keeping” A Memoir of My Bipolar Journey. She is an inspirational speaker. Her true passion in life is helping break the stigma of living with a mental illness and bring those living with one hope. She currently works with special education students as an Instructional Assistant for a school district in Nevada. She is proud to be a Christian. She enjoys hiking, baking, traveling, yoga, spending time with her Goddaughter and trips to Cancun. She makes her home in fabulous Las Vegas with her husband Gary and Siberian cat Angel-Ann. Visit her website.
  1. I was in the same position you were with finding the right group. My faith was important to include in my treatment so in 2014 my wife and I started our own support group ministry at a church we attended. We’ve moved on to another church where we assisted in helping found a ministry there.

  2. Hi,

    I’m trying to find a local Bipolar support group for my son.


    Would you be able to provide guidance?


    1. I just saw this . So sorry for the delay. Do a search for DBSA Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance. That should lead you to local meetings. There is also NAMI National Alliance on Mental Illness. Do a search for it as well.

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