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TL;DR: Postpartum Support International (PSI) has many free, online support groups! Check them out here.
Illnesses like depression and anxiety tend to distort our thoughts, cultivate strong negative feelings like guilt, fear, and low self-esteem, and impact our energy, concentration, and function. Even our ability to access good memories is compromised. This sets the stage for a major consequence to mental illness: social withdrawal and isolation.
Thus, a main element to achieving wellness is to address this directly by fostering social connectedness. One way to achieve this is by engaging in support groups.
Why Join a Support Group?
The psychology behind success & healing via group therapy has been well-studied. Most of this can be credited to Dr. Irvin Yalom, existential psychiatrist who has made incredible and lasting contributions to defining and understanding the therapeutic principles of group therapy. These principles include:
Altruism: By sharing individual strengths and helping others in the group, this in turns boosts self-esteem and confidence.
Catharsis: Sharing feelings and experiences with others can lead to relief from negative emotions and feelings, such as pain, guilt, or stress
Corrective recapitulation of the primary family group: Group interactions mimic those seen in families. Together, group members can learn from each other's personal experiences and share advice. Members can also learn to avoid behaviors that are destructive or unhelpful in real life.
Development of socialization techniques: Group therapy cultivates a safe, supportive, non-judgmental setting to practice new behaviors.
Existential factors: Group therapy fosters individual agency, helping members appreciate their own responsibilities for their lives, actions, and choices.
Group cohesiveness: Because the group is united in a common goal, members gain a sense of belonging and acceptance.
Imparting information: Group members can help each other by sharing information.
Imitative behavior: Individuals can model the behavior of other members or leaders of the group.
Instillation of hope: The group contains members at different stages of the treatment process. Seeing people who are coping or recovering gives hope to those at the beginning of the process.
Interpersonal learning: Connecting, interacting, and receiving feedback from others can help individuals gain a better understanding of themselves
Universality: Being part of a group of people who have the same experiences helps people see that what they are going through is universal and that they are not alone.
So, for the meetings supported by Postpartum Support International, you can expect to receive helpful, evidence-based, and practical tips in a warm, supportive, and safe environment. Groups are structured in the peer-to-peer model of support, meaning you will work with individuals with common & relatable experiences. Group leaders also receive additional training to lead groups, and many have additional certifications. The degree of your participation is also under your control; all meetings have video and audio capability, and you have choice to mute the audio and/or turn off the video if you like. You can also attend anonymously (with a pseudonym) if that cultivates more comfort.
Types of Support Groups?
PSI offers a TON of support groups covering many topics, interests, and needs, including moms/parents with perinatal mood & anxiety disorders (depression, anxiety, bipolar, psychosis, OCD), grief, loss (pregnancy, infant, maternal, adoption, termination), fertility challenges, marginalized & minority representation (Black, South-Asian, Queer/Trans), special populations (military families), and fathers.
Notably missing are groups that highlight specifically welcoming discussion about substance use in pregnancy. I am waiting to hear back from PSI to see if this topic may be addressed in one of the listed recurring groups, or if the organization plans to form a group dedicated to this topic. So stay tuned for that!
Most meetings are free! In scrolling through most of the recurring meeting options, I only noticed these were all marked as free of charge. In the process of signing up for a meeting, you will be able to confirm cost prior to registering.
Not Yet a Member?
No worries! Membership is free and sign up is easy. I walked through the steps myself, and it took only a few minutes. It will ask for your preferred name and contact, location (to customize all of the meeting times to your time zone), and emergency contact.
Other helpful tips:
PSI meetings are 90 minutes (1.5 hours)
~30 minutes of receiving information, tips, education, and setting ground rules for group interactions
~60 minutes of “talk time,” in which group members share and talk with each other
Group members must be present for the discussion of group guidelines before joining the “talk time” part of the session
It seems like most meetings are full a day or two in advance
There is also the option to be on a waitlist for a meeting
Here's an overview of the weekly schedule. Of note, the Perinatal Mood Support for Moms group is offered every weekday.
If you are looking to enhance your wellness or recovery, definitely consider expanding your social support!
Wanting other ideas and resources for support? Check out this page for ongoing updates!