Sometimes no one understands what you're going through like someone experiencing the same thing, whether it’s coping with loss, recovering from a stroke or caring for a loved one with a serious illness.
That’s one of the reasons millions of Americans attend support groups. These groups bring people together to talk about a shared challenge or situation.
Across Chicago, and online, you can find free support groups for a wide range of life's difficulties, including many groups at Rush University Medical Center and Rush Oak Park Hospital. Their members offer each other understanding, encouragement, advice and more — in a word, community.
One of the benefits of support groups is that they help people realize, "It's not just me," which can provide comfort and relief.
By bringing together many people who share the same challenges, these groups also give members new ways of seeing their situations.
"In support group meetings, I saw how Parkinson's affects each person differently," explains Linda Grauvogl, whose husband, Mike, has the disease.
She and Mike found community in the monthly Parkinson's disease support group at Rush Oak Park Hospital. "While there are some things Mike can no longer do, it made me see that there are things that he still can do, like using a remote control to fly small drones in the yard," she says.
Other benefits are more concrete. At group meetings, Mike and Linda got practical advice about dealing with the day-to-day realities of Parkinson's. They learned, for example, that suspenders can be a big help to people with the disease, who often have difficulty buckling belts.
Support groups help people realize, 'It's not just me,' and that can offer comfort and relief.
In addition to learning from other patients and caregivers, Mike and Linda have had opportunities to learn from Parkinson's specialists. At Rush, support groups focused on specific conditions often invite expert speakers to discuss new research, treatments and other topics.
While listening to, and learning from, others is an important part of support groups, being heard is equally important.
Support groups should be safe zones, where members can process feelings and express them to a community of people who understand and won't judge. Hiding from feelings can be stressful and exhausting. And support groups can relieve some of that tension.
Some support groups are small and intimate. Others have dozens of members. Some have structured meetings. Others encourage open discussion.
Trying more than one can help you figure out what kind of group makes you feel most comfortable. If you need help finding a support group, talk to your primary care doctor or specialist.
At Rush University Medical Center and Rush Oak Park Hospital, you can find support groups for people affected by Parkinson's, stroke, Alzheimer's disease, liver transplant, diabetes and several types of cancer, among other conditions. Support groups are there to help address every difficult life experience you can imagine, from divorce to addiction to serious illnesses.
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