With the pandemic wreaking unprecedented mental health havoc, we have all shared a traumatic experience. It’s no wonder mental health support groups are gaining traction.
Last month I attended my first support group shortly after my birthday, aptly titled Oh Sh*t, I’m 30, on an app called Sesh. I finally admitted what I had been trying to push out: Saying 30 out loud made me feel and face a range of emotions. In my foray into therapist-led support groups, we shared, meditated, and felt into our body spaces for a quick hour in our private virtual, and then vanishing, Zoom space. It was a nice way to carve out an hour dedicated to processing the things I was feeling.
There are mental health support groups for pretty much whatever you’re facing: life changes (yes, turning 30 counts), fertility challenges, addiction, loneliness, identity. Spaces to address our mental health issues are more accessible than ever thanks to Zoom. They’re not meant to be a replacement for individualized mental health treatment conducted by a professional (and should not be used that way—discussing your emotional well-being with a health-care professional is important, and your mental health should never be dismissed by a provider, family member, partner or friend), but getting plugged into a support group or mental health community can be a powerful way to supplement your mental health care. Think of mental health support groups as self-care for your psyche—not a replacement for going to the doctor, but part of a holistic approach to keeping yourself healthy and happy.
Eryn Bizar, an organizational consultant and sommelier, first connected with her Portland-area support group for those dealing with chronic illness and pain through her therapist as part of her plan to manage fibromyalgia. “The intention was not to have a place to mope about it, but to connect with people who had similar type things, people who just get it,” she says. The weekly commitment “created stability during a time in my life when everything felt out of control and unstable,” Bizar says. “It’s enabled me to develop great compassion, not only in dealing with my own stuff, but in being a resource and ally and a friend to others.”
Mental health support groups have proliferated over the past few decades, as tapping into the power of connection has been proven therapeutic across countless studies. “Connection causes optimism,” said Naz Perez, founder of Heart Broken Anonymous. In her monthly support meetings, over 10,000 global participants have come together to share their stories, listen, and start to heal. “The science shows that we can heal through community.”
Whether you’re in a time of struggle, or just looking to activate your growth mindset for optimal mental wellbeing, here are 16 mental health support groups to check out:
Mental Health Support Groups for General Wellness
An all-women team launched Coa, an emotional fitness gym with online offerings, during the pandemic. “Just like we can always have better physical fitness, we can always have better emotional fitness,” says Emily Anhalt, a cofounder and clinical psychologist. With a focus on researched methods and community learning, all classes are created and facilitated by licensed therapists. In going through classes with a cohort, “what we’ve seen is that people feel closer to each other, they’re more able to have vulnerable conversations, and they have a shared language for how to bring their emotional selves to other aspects of their lives,” says Anhalt. You can sign up for a series or take a drop-in class, starting at $25.
National Alliance on Mental Illness
More than 20% of us have experienced mental illness—even before the pandemic—but fewer than half of us receive treatment. These often “hidden” conditions strike all people and are on the rise. National Alliance on Mental Illness coordinates a network of trained peer and clinical facilitators around the country to help those with mental illness and their families. Thousands connect locally and virtually in community support groups, free and open to all. (NAMI Conexion offers Spanish-speakers a place to comfortably share too.)
Each week on Sesh, 50+ sessions are offered by facilitators from around the world. With up to 14 others, these group sessions help you explore body positivity, handle screen-time burnout, or discuss anxieties about reentering the world after COVID. There’s everything from a weekly queer and trans BIPOC session to groups for dealing with your parents’ dating expectations (en español), all accessible through a WiFi connection. With a free two-week trial, you can try out unlimited one-hour sessions to see what feels right; then $60 per month continues your membership. And, Sesh is starting to accept insurance.
Support Group Central
Support Group Central’s platform opens up support group registration for free or low-fee sessions. From narcolepsy to veterans to chronic illness and caregivers, SGC has more than 30 domains for you to find and explore support groups.
If you’ve ever listened to an episode of Unf*ck Your Brain, The Clutch is your 24/7 community feminist-wisdom hub. The support network focuses on the intellectual and emotional aspects of existing as a woman in a man’s world, designed to help you unpack social conditioning and self-critical talk. At $97 a month, this support network includes live coaching opportunities, a self-coaching program, on-call trained coaches, and a Facebook group of over 2,700 members and growing.
The Shine app promotes well-being through mindfulness and gratitude, with daily meditations and prompts. On the community pages, you can share your thoughts and read through others anonymously. The app, founded by BIPOC women Marah Lidey and Naomi Hirabayashi, features guided meditations delivered daily by diverse experts with voices that soothe the soul. A premium subscription to interact with the anonymous community forum is $69.99 a year, and there’s a seven-day trial for you to see if this is your jam.
Mental Health Support Groups for Grief
Heart Broken Anonymous
Heart Broken Anonymous founder Naz Perez researched other peer-support communities like Alcoholics Anonymous and studied the pain of heartbreak to craft a healing space for those dealing with relationship pain. It’s not just about break-ups—stories shared in sessions may be about romantic relationships, the end of a friendship, or losing a loved one or even a pet. “The same part of your brain that lights up for physical pain lights up for emotional pain,” says Perez. “We process emotional distress like an open wound.” HBA has no religious or political affiliation and considers everything shared confidential. Participants can choose to speak for four minutes about what they’re going through in each meeting, which has a recommended $10 donation (the Zoom link is shared with those registered).
Mental Health Support Groups for Fertility, Pregnancy, and Parenting
Post Partum Support International
About 10% of women struggle with infertility, and up to one in five women will experience a mental health or substance use disorder in pregnancy or postpartum. But the process does not have to be isolating. Post Partum Support International runs a range of groups for all kinds of new parents: military, BIPOC, NICU, queer, desi and more, all facilitated by the 300+ trained volunteer support coordinators. There’s also an on-demand support line to call or text: 800-944-4773.
Resolve: The National Infertility Association
Resolve: The National Infertility Association also offers monthly virtual support groups in family planning for general and BIPOC-focused support. The Zoom rooms are capped at 70 people, with breakout rooms of 10 folks to open up the conversation more intimately.
Mental Health Support Groups for Identity-Focused Support
Asian Mental Health Project
The Asian Mental Health Project started offering free weekly check-ins to hold space for pan-Asian communities in March 2020. With politicians using terms like the Kung flu, there was “a surge of Asian American hate,” says founder Carrie Zhang. “It’s a lot to unpack, and it’s really hard to talk about in households where you’re not raised to talk about your feelings.” Following her own experiences in support networks, and peer research identifying common themes across Asian American communities, Zhang formed AMHP after college and runs it with an all-volunteer team. “With the horrible shootings in Atlanta, and Indianapolis, there has been a huge need for support, and also a big influx of support from non-Asian allies,” said Zhang. Anywhere from 10 to 90 folks gather on Zoom where moderators facilitate an open discussion, and guest wellness and mental health practitioners often join to add value. “We make it clear it’s not a clinical support group, but a peer-to-peer wellness check-in,” Zhang said. “We follow the rules of What’s said here stays here, but what’s learned here leaves here.”
Therapy for Black Girls
The Therapy for Black Girls Sister Circle has 400+ members supporting each other via a digital private group. Founded by clinical psychologist Joy Harden Bradford, Ph.D., the online space features 200+ weekly conversational podcasts, and a paid 24/7 online forum with monthly members-only events.
Recovering From Religion
Recovering From Religion offers a welcoming web of resources for those dealing with questions of faith. The network is welcoming to those of all identities and faith traditions, whether you’re no longer religious, working on family religious issues, or just questioning your faith. Hundreds of passionate volunteers answer calls at 1-84-I-Doubt-It (844-368-2848) or offer hope through web-based chats. Sixty local support groups help those work through questions, doubts, or changing beliefs.
LGBTQIA+ Community Resources
PFLAG offers peer-to-peer support for those whoa re queer-identifying or questioning, as well as and loved ones of people in the LGBTQIA+ community. Check out your closest chapter (there are 400+!) for Zoom and in-person confidential meetings. The LGBT National Help Center offers online one-to-one chat peer support Monday through Saturday, and maintains a directory of local resources across the U.S., including community centers and support groups. Licensed-therapist-led sessions happen locally all over: Center on Halsted, the Midwest’s most comprehensive LGBTQ community health center, offers a few support groups virtually, and in person for $15 per session. This year’s eight-week spring sessions include trans and gender nonconforming, grief and loss, HIV+, and women-focused groups. (Sesh, above, also offers queer-focused support series each week, led by licensed clinicians.)
Mental Health Support Groups for Addiction
Buddhist teachings guide Recovery Dharma’s network of groups, meetings, and communities (sanghas) that use communal discussions and meditations to support those seeking recovery from addiction or addictive behaviors. The peer-led movement has over 7,800 members on Facebook and dozens of virtual meetings per day for identities, phases of recovery, and by geographies.
Mental Health Support Groups for Domestic Violence
The National Domestic Violence Hotline
Ten percent of high school students experienced physical violence from a partner in the last year; 24 people per minute are victims of rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner; and more than 48% of people have experienced psychological aggression by an intimate partner. Women ages 18 to 34 generally experience the highest rates of intimate partner violence, with women of color experiencing domestic violence at disproportionately higher rates.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline has on-call volunteers to connect anyone with the right resources.
Domestic violence has surged during the pandemic—Hope Recovery offers confidential support groups and workshops each week for survivors.
For more resources on finding the right support community or group therapy option, check out Mental Health America’s directory of care organizations and guide to support groups.