Before we get into our list of the many online support groups that may help people struggling through this year, allow me to say something kind of obvious: Just about everything about 2020 has highlighted how crucial social support can be for our mental health. Having a strong support system has been the go-to tip from experts when asked how to deal with the various challenges of the ongoing pandemic and the current political, social, and economic climate.
At the same time, all this emphasis on the importance of social connection might also be highlighting the lack of support in your life. Maybe the stressors of the pandemic have made certain people unavailable or difficult to communicate with regularly. Maybe you realized that the people in your circle are great for grabbing brunch or seeing a movie, but not actually who you feel like you can go to when things get tough. Or maybe you’re going through something specific (like loss, financial hardship, illness, or any number of difficult personal experiences) and your go-to people just don’t get it the way you need them to.
Whatever the reason you find yourself needing more support, seeking out people to lean on is a worthy endeavor. Sometimes, that means looking beyond our friends and family. Support groups—specifically, online support groups to help accommodate the social distancing restrictions of the pandemic—might be just what you need right now. Here’s everything you need to know about virtual support groups and how to find one.
What are support groups and why might you want to join one?
Support groups are gatherings of people (virtually or IRL) who share common ground in some way and can offer each other emotional support, according to the Mayo Clinic. Typically, participants have either gone through or are currently going through a similar experience, such as the loss of a loved one or living with illness, a chronic health condition, or addiction. Or they might share a marginalized identity, such as sexuality, gender identity, or race, that influences the challenges they face when moving through the world. Those are only a few examples, though—there are a ton of support groups out there and more are cropping up in response to the myriad challenges of 2020 too.
The important thing to understand about support groups is that they can vary greatly in practice. Unlike group therapy, which is guided by a licensed mental health professional and offers targeted support, support groups come in many shapes and sizes. Some might be more structured, like those offered by a nonprofit organization or mental health clinic. Others might be independent and run by people like you or me who just want to gather with others over a virtual cup of coffee once a week to talk about our struggles. Some support groups take the form of online communities and don’t have meetings at all.
For that reason, remember that support groups can be very helpful, but they’re not a replacement for professional mental health treatment. Similarly, just like you’d shop around for a therapist who feels like a good fit, you should keep an eye on whether a support group you join is actually, well, providing you support. Independently run and peer-to-peer support groups especially have the capacity to be unhelpful or potentially even toxic, so trust your gut.
So with all that in mind, let’s get on to how to actually find an online support group that’s right for you. Below are a mix of specific support groups and meetings, as well as databases and organizations that will point you in the right direction.
1. Support Groups Central
You’ll find a wide variety of support groups through Support Groups Central. It curates support groups from other organizations, such as the National Alliance On Mental Illness (NAMI) and re:MIND. You can search for groups by topics such as depression, addiction, LGBTQ+, and even COVID-19. Most groups are free or have a small suggested donation, and you can sign up for email alerts about future meetings by topic too.
2. The Dinner Party
The Dinner Party helps groups of 20- and 30-somethings who have experienced the loss of a parent, partner, child, sibling, another close family member, or close friend gather in small groups called tables. Pre-pandemic, tables were hand-matched to meet in person at a host’s house for support group-esque dinner parties, but COVID-era tables are all virtual. Sign up for one here.
3. Psychology Today
We love Psychology Today as a therapist-finding tool, and many therapists are currently hosting virtual support groups (and more targeted therapy groups and workshops if you’re interested in those). To find one, use their Find a Therapist search, toggle to the “support group” option, then search by keyword. It might require some experimenting—you can search “online” or “virtual,” or by your location, then manually seek out the online options therein. Much like finding a therapist, cost will vary. Some are priced per session, some might be covered by your insurance, and some are free or available on a sliding scale.
All right, Facebook groups can kind of be the Wild West, but there are a lot of potentially helpful options out there. Some therapists and mental health professionals have created support spaces there in recent months in response to mental health challenges related to COVID-19, the most recent instances of police brutality against Black people, and the current economic and political climate. Other organizations and groups already have established closed Facebook communities to foster mental health-related conversations. There are also independently run Facebook support groups for everything under the sun, and many people find them to be wonderful spaces of support.