Groups: Why Not Start Your Own?

My husband and I started a support group for social anxiety disorders out of necessity. We moved to the area right after surviving Hurricane Andrew – we lost our house and both cars in that storm and we were in the house while the hurricane was howling just outside. Needless to say, when I got to this little town, I was pretty shaken, nervous, and anxious.

I had attended a small support group in Miami, Florida which had helped me, but I had moved away. I knew that a Support Group would help me, but I had trouble finding it in my new town.

The local mental health service offered counsellors, but they didn’t have one who knew much about anxiety. We didn’t know anyone in the area (certainly anyone who suffered from anxiety) and we couldn’t find a group that was meeting nearby. The nearest group we found was 40 minutes away and they met at night – I didn’t want to be out on the road alone late following a meeting.

Support Groups are very helpful, but there are not very many available. When a “good” group is found, sometimes they meet too far from your home. Having to travel to the meetings (usually at night) limits many from benefiting from regular support group attendance.

A solution is to start a support group in your area. It is not as daunting a task as it may seem. Break the problem down into sections and handle them one by one.

There are three main areas of concentration:

  1. Getting the word out
  2. Securing a place to meet
  3. Conducting the meeting

Getting the word outThis is where my husband helped a lot. He was a Journalism major in college and an Editor on the university’s newspaper. He explained how newspapers work so I could learn how to get information into print and how to get free advertising.

It is quite simple, really. A newspaper sells advertising. Once the “ads” are sold, the newspaper knows how many pages they will need that day. Once they know how many pages, and they lay out all the ads, the newspaper knows how many “holes” they need to fill up with stories. The lesson here is, newspapers are usually very happy to get copy sent to them in a form they can take and paste directly into their pages.

But what about free advertising? Same sort of thing, really. The newspaper has “feature editors” who have special sections that run every edition (e.g., club news, society news, high school sports, etc.) Feature Editors need to fill up their space every edition, so they are “hungry” for news. Feed them!

What did we do with these newspaper lessons? We prepared a “Press Release” and sent it to the local papers (every town usually has one, main paper and one or more smaller papers or advertising publications that run local news items. Editors like well-written copy that is ready to copy and paste to their page. This is not a creative writing course, so suffice to say it is best to keep it short, clear, and interesting to their readers.

Editors will probably run the article. In our case, the newspaper’s Feature Editor sent a reporter and photographer to our home and wrote an article on anxiety. I was pleased that the newspaper would do that, but also became very anxious about having my face plastered onto the local paper. But my husband encouraged me to take a deep breath and to consider the possible good that could come out of such an article and I agreed to it – and the major newspaper in this area ran the article. I was embarassed and proud all at the same time.

The result of all this is that phone calls and letters started coming in and I began corresponding with many people who wanted to join if a support group got started.

Securing a place to meet

One of my return phone calls was to a young woman who is a Paralegal with an office nearby. She wanted to join if a group was formed and she offered to let us use her office if we were looking for a place to meet.

She is a charming and intelligent young business woman who happens to suffer from GAD. It was most generous of her to provide a place for the group to meet. Her office got a bit crowded a few nights, but it allowed our group to get off the ground.

Having a free place to meet, we did not have to ask anyone to pay to attend. Many support groups have a token fee of a dollar or some small amount that helps pay for the room rental, refreshments if served, and the like. In our case, the room was free and we took turns bringing light refreshments.

One of the men in our group also had an office also nearby, but as it turned out, his office was rather small and did not lend itself to a meeting, even our small group. Another of the men who attended drove from 40 minutes distant to our meetings (and, of course, voiced his wish that there was a support group in his area.) Later, we found out that there was a group in his area, but he said that he did not care for that group and much preferred ours even though he had travel to attend.

Conducting the meeting

Perhaps the most frightening aspect of starting a group was how to conduct the meeting. We got the word out, many people responded, and now we are all together: now what?!? Please read our meeting tips about how to set up and run a support group and meeting. Good luck!


And now, a word from our Sponsor. . .

    • Several members of our support group have found the same thing I did about breathing. We learned how to do proper diaphragmatic breathing and found that it reduced the frequency of panic attacks as well as the intensity when we do get an attack. Learning how to breathe correctly is important, but not as important as remembering to do it. To remember to practice, I use a breathing reminder called The BreathMinder® as a personal “coach” for my breathing exercises.

      Page last updated August 27, 2017