We are winding up Mental Health Awareness Month and I thought that this would be a good time to talk about recovery. So, I am going to begin a dialogue—which could extend into future columns—about recovery and the tools available to you, if you are on the road to recovery, be it from mental illness and/or addiction. For now, I want to talk about support.
Support is a part of a three-legged stool called recovery. Many people—professionals included—talk about recovery in terms of medication and therapy. They maintain that, with those two elements, you have what you need for recovery. Those, however, are only two legs of the stool. With only two legs, our three-legged stool falls down. The other leg, which is understood but not mentioned enough, is support. Support can be just as much of a factor as the other two and can make an even more convincing case for medication and medication.
Support—whether it is peer support or caregiver support—provides a social network and environment in which information and encouragement can be given, so that recovery can take place.
On the macro level, you have support groups, in which sharing and learning takes part among a group of people—whether they are the caregivers (family members and/or friends) or among those struggling with mental health or addiction issues (peer support).
Such support, on the micro level, can be two people—possible friends made in the support group—meeting over coffee or lunch to share and care.
Either way, what makes support so valuable is the empathy shown and the sharing of knowledge through experience. By saying, “I know where you’re coming from—been there, done that—and this I what I did, you not only acknowledge the other person’s struggle, but you offer help that is non-judgmental. You are using your credibility—not to tell the other person what they should do, but what you did to get help.
Two important things not to do in a support environment: Keep the support on that level and do not let it degenerate into a “bitch-and-gripe” session. Such venting can get things off your chest, but rarely results in constructive steps that someone can use. Also, you do not want to come across as telling the other person what do to—or to offer therapy. You are one person giving your testimony.
A number of mental health support groups exist in this area. Mental health support groups include the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Intensive Family Support Services (IFSS), Grow, the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA), and others. Many addiction support groups also exist—Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, to name just two. This is not to mention a variety of warm-lines that you can call.
I do want to mention that peer support has grown tremendously—not only in the form of support groups, but also in the form of clubhouses and wellness centers. Wellness centers were once known as drop-in centers and then self-help centers. Many of them operate through Collaborative Support Programs of New Jersey (CSP-NJ). Most New Jersey counties have one. They provide groups and activities, as well as learning and socialization opportunities, for consumers. The growth of the movement in which consumers help, support, and advocate for themselves has been remarkable in the past two decades.
If you are someone looking for support—for yourself, or for a friend or loved one—do not forget that third leg of our stool. Make support part of your recovery toolkit and reach out for that support as another way to mind your mind. n
Melissa Niles, LPC, LCADC is Cumberland County Department of Human Services Director, Cumberland County Mental Health Administrator, and Cumberland County Alcohol & Substance Abuse Services Director.