How to Find a Great Support Group: A Guide for Caregivers

Angelina O’Reilly looks forward to the third Thursday of every month with more excitement than she does Christmas. “The group is my lifeline,” she whispers fervently, hoping her four children won’t overhear her. “If I didn’t have time with other full-time carers I would have gone insane a long time ago.”

O’Reilly is the mother of four children under age 10, one who was left paralyzed from the waist down after a car accident and another who has autism. Every third Thursday she meets a group of 10 other caregivers from all over Dublin, Ireland. They swap information, new books and magazines about caregiving and gossip about their charges and mutual friends.

The caregivers don’t have a formal group name, but they do enforce a few ground rules: Everyone must come prepared to share. Everyone must bring at least one new piece of relevant information about those they care for or their conditions. Everyone must provide at least one positive story. Oh yes, and everyone must have a drink and have fun!

“Care for the carers” is what O’Reilly calls it. She says without the support of this group quite a few of the professional caregivers in the group would have changed careers years, if not decades, ago.

Caregiver support groups are highly beneficial for caregivers, whether they are supporting family members with special needs or have made a career out of caring. These groups offer a source of support, allow caregivers to exchange information and keep up to date on local and even international developments, let caregivers vent or celebrate with people who understand and give caregivers a chance to focus entirely on themselves for a little while. There are several options for caregivers looking to join a support group, from local groups to online communities.

Find a Local Support Group

Even if you’ve never been in contact with it, a local caregiver support group may already exist in your community. Check the local paper and community notice boards for advertisements, ask at your doctor or therapist’s office and inquire at your child’s school, as these are all great avenues to finding existing groups. Also consider checking with formal organizations such as the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

There are many helpful resources on the Internet for locating local caregiver support groups, such as:

Join an Online Support Group

Another option that can be particularly appropriate if you live in a rural area or can’t make time for consistent travel is to join an online caregiver support group. Many forums and message boards are active on this topic, including:

Form Your Own Support Group

If you can’t find a support group near you but you are committed to the idea of creating a caregivers’ support system, the time may come when you need to start your own. If you are considering forming a support group, remember to:

  • Advertise locally and with national or international organizations.
  • Decide early on what the aims and objectives of the group will be.
  • Decide how often, and where, the group will meet.
  • Decide if you would like the group to be formal or informal.
  • Gather a core group or executive board that can delegate responsibilities.

Caregivers give so much of themselves to their charges that it is only natural that at some point they will need to replenish their inner reserves. A caregivers’ support group is an excellent means of resting, relaxing, recharging and having fun! If you are a caregiver all on your own, investigate joining, or starting, a local support group today.