No two self-help groups are exactly alike — the make-up and attitudes are influenced by the group itself and its environment. The two main frameworks for self-help support groups are to:
- accommodate illness — the focus is on acceptance of an illness and finding ways to manage/live with the illness
- change thinking and behaviour — the focus is on positive thinking and increasing personal agency/control. Another form is where the group looks outward at taking control and activism in the mental health system.
There are a wide range of self-help groups in all areas and some of the better-known self-help groups in Scotland are those supported by:
- Bipolar Scotland www.bipolarscotland.org.uk
- Action on Depression www.actionondepression.org/
- Hearing Voices Networks www.hearingvoicesnetwork.com/new/
Researchers have identified a number of factors that make self-help groups effective. You will already be familiar with some of these from your introduction to peer support:
- Members of groups can share and obtain specialised knowledge and information.
- Groups can offer social support and a community of people who have a mutual trust and understanding.
- Group members can be positive and credible role models.
- Groups can create a sense of security and normality in a sometimes unwelcoming and poorly informed world. They are a stigma-free zone.
- There is a mutual benefit in helping and supporting group members that can provide a sense of purpose and validation.
Collective advocacy groups are similar to self-help groups, in that they bring people with experience of mental health problems together and provide many of the benefits noted above. In these groups, people come together to work for change within and out with mental health services. This form of group activism can be both empowering and influential.