World Mental Health Day is October 10. For those facing major life changes, including medical issues, support groups often share experiences and advice that can be healing to the mind, body and spirit. They can offer a forum to meet and network with others sharing the same challenges.
In Judith Johnson’s and William McCown’s wonderful book Family Therapy of Neurobehavioral Disorders, they state: “Although support and self-help groups can vary greatly, all groups share one thing in common—they are places where people can share personal stories, express emotions, and be heard in an atmosphere of acceptance, understanding, and encouragement. Participants share information and resources. By helping others, people in a support group strengthen and empower themselves.”
Burke Rehabilitation Hospital has a number of support groups including stroke, aphasia, osteoporosis and spinal cord injury. At Burke, our support groups bring together former patients and community members that share a particular issue. Some of Burke's support groups have been formed by community members with the same condition or by someone interested in it, such as a family member. In some cases, support groups are organized by nonprofit organizations. Others are provided by Burke staff who are considered experts in a particular area of healthcare.
When facing such a dramatic life-altering change, such as a head injury--with the resultant changes in cognition, behavior and mood--knowing there are people who will understand what it’s like to live with these changes, is especially comforting and important. The level of stress, loneliness and depression many survivors and caregivers experience can have a negative effect on health at a time when they most need their strength. Often the ability to maintain social contacts – friends and family, recreational activities and social outings -are no longer possible due to the effects of the injury. As these previous friends and activities fall away, the survivor and caregiver can feel like they are the only people in the world who have ever experienced this.
Since 2014, former stroke patient Judith Stern has attended a monthly Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) support group for survivors and caregivers at Burke. “The support group is social, which helps me meet new people and see familiar faces, and gets me out of the house,” explains Stern. “I get to hear others' stories and see/hear others' attitudes, which is uplifting and reminds me what's possible. Being with people who know what I'm talking about relieves some of the isolation I inevitably experience. I feel a sense of connection to the group.”
Most often injuries sustained in a brain injury are “invisible.” Looking at the survivor, family and friends may think “nothing is wrong.” By coming to the support group, they will learn how better to understand and support the survivor, improving the quality of life for all and supporting the survivor’s ongoing recovery.
“Go and see what it's like,” encourages Stern. “Support groups are free, which can be a huge plus, and being with peers—people who are going through what you're going through—can help in many ways. You don't have to talk—you can always pass if called on—but the more you participate, the more you get out of the group. You need to do what's best for you.”
For more information on Burke's support groups, click here.