What They Do

The 25 million Americans coping with mood disorders and their families need a greater understanding of how these illnesses affect their lives. We all need support from people who have been there and who understand our journey. After proper diagnosis and treatment, the support from others is vital to a lifetime of wellness. DBSA chapters can provide that support and much more.

DBSA chapters are independent, local affiliates of the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance. DBSA chapters are incorporated, non-profit organizations that are governed by their own board of directors. DBSA chapters offer more than 700 peer-run support groups where you will find comfort and direction in a confidential and supportive setting, and where you can make a difference in the lives of others. The selection of services offered differs by chapter, depending upon the needs of its participants. Most support groups are volunteer run and provide self-help through facilitated meetings. They are not group therapy, however, our chapters often have professional advisors (typically a psychiatrist, psychologist, nurse, or social worker) from the community.

In addition to participating in the group meetings, you will meet people from your community who can relate to your experiences. You may learn valuable information about mental health professionals and services in your area, as well as tips and techniques others use to manage their illness.

Other services some chapters offer in addition to their support groups include educational sessions, newsletters, lending libraries, and special events. Some offer information on mental health professionals in your area or upcoming mental health legislation in your state.

What happens at a support group meeting?

At support group meetings, people share experiences, personal feelings, information, and strategies for living successfully with mood disorders.  There are six key elements of a DBSA chapter’s support groups.

1. Focus on Self-Help
The DBSA self-help process is based on certain assumptions:

  • Each person has the ability to make appropriate use of available resources to meet her or his own needs. Some people may utilize this ability more fully than others, but it is present in everyone.
  • All of us together know more than any one of us. Everyone has value and has something to add to a group process.
  • Each person is the ultimate authority on what s/he needs and on what will work for her or him. (Adapted from Leading Self-Help Groups by Lucretia Mallory, 1984)

2. Peer-Led
Discussion at support group meetings is facilitated by a group participant, and this is important to the group’s smooth functioning. The group facilitator is a mental health consumer or friend/family member, if the group is serving friends/family. The facilitator guides discussion, provides focus to the group, and helps ensure that the group’s guidelines are followed.

3. Safe and Accepting
Participants make the support group a safe place by fostering a supportive, trustworthy, respectful, non-judgmental, and nurturing atmosphere. All those attending share experiences that can help others live successfully with depression or bipolar disorder. People use information they’ve gained from others at the meeting and the mental health professionals they work with to make their own judgments about correct strategies for themselves.

4. Confidential
Open and honest communication is important to a positive group experience.  Support groups operate on the following premise: "What we say here stays here.”  No one may publicly reveal information about the people attending the group or what is said during a meeting.  Exceptions to this policy are made only when the safety of an individual is in danger.  Participants are not required to be members or provide personal contact information if they do not wish to do so. DBSA and its affiliated chapters and support groups never make public or sell/rent group membership or participant lists. 

5. Meet Regularly
The group determines how often, when, and where it meets. It is suggested that support groups meet at least once every month; most groups meet weekly or twice monthly.

6. Free of Charge
Support groups that are part of a DBSA chapter must hold meetings that are open to the public and free of charge. No fee is required to attend. Groups may request optional donations to defray meeting costs, such as refreshments, or may establish optional group dues to be used for group-related purposes (for example, to place an advertisement in a local newspaper or publish and mail a newsletter), but attending the support group must be free of charge. 

What DBSA Support Groups Aren't

1. NOT Therapy or Treatment 
Group discussion is not led by or directed by anyone in a professional capacity. Groups are peer-led.

2. NOT a Place to Diagnose or a Substitute for Professional Care
Most people attending a support group meeting use the group as a supplement to their professional care, whether that care includes medication, therapy, or other treatment methods. Group participants do not seek to diagnose, and support groups do not endorse or recommend the use of any specific treatment or medication.

3. NOT a 12-Step Group
The 12-step formula, although valuable, is not the basis for DBSA support groups. DBSA believes that each person’s path to wellness is uniquely his or her own. There is no one way.

4. NOT a Pity Party
While acknowledging the difficulty of life with a mood disorder, support group meetings are focused on mutual aid and strategies for living the fullest lives possible. Participants continuously seek to provide hope, reassurance, and encouragement.

5. NOT an Expert Giving a Lecture
Groups may periodically invite a professional or other expert to speak, but a support group’s main focus should be on peers helping one another. No one participant is regarded as knowing more than another or as the person with all the answers.

Who can participate in a support group?

The primary participants in DBSA chapters’ support group meetings are persons diagnosed with a mood disorder and those who believe they may have a mood disorder. Support groups may also include family members and friends of such individuals.

Take the next step toward wellness for yourself or someone you love. Use our Support Group Locator to find the DBSA chapter nearest you.

The Value of DBSA Support Groups

DBSA support groups provide the kind of sharing and caring that is crucial for a lifetime of wellness. DBSA support groups:

  • give you the opportunity to reach out to others and benefit from the experience of those who have been there.
  • motivate you to follow your treatment plan.
  • help you understand that a mood disorder does not define who you are.
  • help you rediscover strengths and humor you may have thought you had lost.
  • provide a forum for mutual acceptance, understanding, and self-discovery.

Remember, support groups are not a substitute for professional care. DBSA chapters and support groups do not endorse or recommend the use of any specific treatment or medication. For advice about specific treatment or medication, individuals should consult their physicians and/or mental health professionals.

No support group in your area? Learn about starting one.