A young adult struggling with multiple personalities. A middle-aged woman so depressed she can barely get out of bed each day. An elderly man trying to understand the trials and tribulations of his son who has bipolar disorder. In all three of these scenarios, these people can get help by attending one of the many mental health support groups in the greater Norfolk area, which includes Tidewater, Hampton Roads and the Peninsula.
Through support groups, people with mental illness as well as their family and friends can share their stories and learn how others have walked in their shoes.
“This is a place where you can go, and everyone speaks the same language as you do,” explained Marylou Taylor, president of the Portsmouth/Suffolk National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) chapter. “People understand what you are talking about, and you derive the courage to keep going. You see that there’s hope for you and your loved ones. That’s what we’re about, to keep that beacon going.”
Kay Ashby, president of the Virginia Beach NAMI chapter, added that support groups demonstrate mental illness does not have to define the person.
“One of the things a person can learn from a support group is that the person is not the illness,” Ashby explained. “For example, someone who has bipolar disorder might also be a physician, a musician, a spouse, a worker. “
Area support group facilitators emphasized that the groups are for people in all phases of mental illness, from the throes of deep depression to the feel-good times when their illnesses seem to be in remission.
“It’s a support group, so you need to come whether you’re feeling well or not feeling well so we can support each other through all of our mood swings,” explained Joy Redd,, a facilitator with a support group that meets in Portsmouth.
Ashby expressed a similar sentiment.
“When you are feeling better and are able to share, you not only help others get better, but you also see that mental illness is not the end of your life,” Ashby said. “People can share back, and this giving back is really important.”
Attending support groups when a person with mental illness is feeling well has the added bonus of setting up support for when times are not as good, said Rita Dillon, a facilitator for a new Chesapeake support group, Moods and Moments.
“We all do well at times and don’t do well at times,” Dillon said. ”It’s important for people who are doing well and are stable to come to a support group so they already have support in place when they aren’t doing well. We become friends in a support group. We have that attachment that you need in place when and if you stop doing well.”
Not only do people with mental illness get help from support groups but so do their family and friends. Mental illness can be heart wrenching, but support groups can help family members in two main ways, facilitators said. One, meeting with the loved ones of other mentally ill people shows family and friends that others have been through similar ordeals and that they are not alone in their troubles. Two, support groups often educate family and friends on how they can help their loved one.
Often times, family and friends “just don’t get it,” said Dillon. “They try to, but they often say the wrong thing at the wrong time.”
A support group, Dillon said, can help loved ones understand what the person with a mental illness is experiencing, and it can teach them how to help their loved ones who suffer from mental illness.
Mental health support groups in the greater Norfolk area run the gamut, from ones that help just certain types of mental illness to ones that are open to all types and from ones just for the person with mental illness to those solely for their family members.
A NAMI Family Support Group meets the first and third Wednesdays each month from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at Apostles Lutheran Church, 370 Johnstown Rd. Family and friends of people with any mental illness are welcome.
A new peer-led support group called Moods and Moments meets from 7 to 9 p.m. in room 236 of Oak Grove Methodist Church, 472 Battlefield Blvd. (at the intersection of Battlefield Blvd. and Great Ridge Blvd). The group is for people who suffer from depression or bipolar disorder and for their friends and families.
The Hampton/Newport News NAMI chapter holds support groups for both persons with mental illness and for their family and friends. Both groups meet 6 to 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays at the Hampton/Newport News Community Services Board, 100-A Medical Drive, Suite A. People struggling with any mental illness are welcome.
A group for people with obsessive compulsive disorder meets the third Thursday of each month from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. in the Pile Conference Center at Riverside Behavioral Health Center, 2244 Executive Dr.
A group for military personnel and veterans living with mental health issues meets Tuesdays 6:30 to 8 p.m. at the Hampton VA Medical Center, 100 Emancipation Dr., in Building 36 (next to the police station).
Another group, this one just for women who are serving in the military or are veterans and who have mental health issues, meets Fridays 1-2 p.m. in the Hampton VA Medical Center, Building 138 (MCH Trailer), Room AG-10.
Connection, NAMI’s peer-led support group for people facing mental illness, meets the first and third Thursdays 7 to 8:30 p.m. at Denbigh Church of Christ, 205 Denbigh Blvd.
A group for people with depression and bipolar disorder meets 7-8:30 p.m. Mondays at First Presbyterian Church, 820 Colonial Ave. Persons planning to attend for the first time should call Mike at 757-456-0657 for specific instructions on how to get into the church and find the meeting.
The Portsmouth chapter of the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) meets Friday evenings 7-9 at Bon Secours Maryview Medical Center, 3636 High St., in Conference Room C on the second floor. This peer-led support group is open to any adult suffering from a mental illness and to adult family and friends of those persons.
A NAMI Family Support Group meets at Maryview Medical Center the first and third Tuesdays from 7 to 8:30 p.m. in the second-floor conference room in the Medical Arts Building which is next to the main hospital. It is for family and friends of those who live with mental illness.
A Connection group is in the plans. A meeting place and time have not been set yet, but Taylor said it will probably start in mid-June. For more information, call Taylor at 757-421-2597.
A NAMI Connection group meets Thursdays from 11 a.m to 12:30 p.m.in Room 140 of Pembroke Three, 289 Independence Ave.
Another NAMI support group for people with mental illness meets Sundays 5-6:30 p.m. in the Upper Room of Potter’s House, at the intersection of 18th St. and Pacific Ave., behind Domino’s Pizza.
The NAMI Family Support Group Care and Share meets the second and fourth Wednesdays from 7 to 9 p.m. at Pembroke Three in Suite 140.
NAMI also sponsors Basics of Caring, a mental health support group for graduates of NAMI Basics, a class for parents and care-givers of children and adolescents with mental illness. For more information or to register for Basics, call Carolyn Wood at 757-385-0802.