Social relationships affect not only your mind but also your body. Whether you have a formal support group or utilize a support system consisting of your family and friends, staying connected can improve your overall well-being. Favorable exchange with your support/social network effects your blood pressure, mood or mental outlook, and other bodily functions. Additionally, when the stress and temptations of life fall upon many African Americans the idea of reaching out for help through support groups is almost unthinkable.
Some point to the drastically low representation of people of color in support fields, while others attribute the reticence to historical factors. A 2018 study by the National Association on Mental Illness (NAMI), for instance, found that only 6.2 percent of psychologists, 5.6 percent of advanced-practice psychiatric nurses, 12.6 percent of social workers, and 21.3 percent of psychiatrists are members of minority groups. Additionally, only 3.7 percent of members in the American Psychiatric Association and 1.5 percent of members in the American Psychological Association are Black.
Karen Smith, a current support group member, shared how attending her support group was her way of gaining control of her social anxiety disorder. Although she takes medication, it still did not remove the perceived terror of unfamiliar social settings nor the resulting digestive issues, asthma attacks or headaches. In her support group setting, she described feelings of calm and acceptance especially since she knew someone who attended that meeting. Smith did not feel judged, which lowered her anxiety, and prevented headaches, asthma attacks, and overeating.
“Being around people who get it put me at ease. I was brought up to be really guarded with personal issues; however, I have learned new coping strategies within my group, helping me to enjoy more social outings and the company of others,” Smith told the Informer. “Whether it’s dealing with a life challenge, or keeping to a New Year’s resolution, support groups offer a secure environment to move forward.”
Similarly, Lakeytria Johnson, a former support group member, told the Informer that her attendance at group meetings were stressful at first because she was taught by family members to avoid sharing family issues with ‘outsiders.’ She said that those closest to her did not understand what she was going through nor why she could not get over family issues quickly.
“I questioned my coping ability and felt ashamed because I could not deal with that situation on my own. In my family, you deal with your situation on your own. If you need help, you go to a family member or close friend not a stranger.” stated Johnson. “But even with the negative connotation associated with support groups, I went for my sanity.”
Johnson said her situation consumed most of her day and caused her to feel as if she was not living, only existing.
“I could not live the rest of my life like this. I had to make a change. Joining that support group helped me change my quality of life back to my normal. Now, I have the energy to exercise and enjoy the company of others,” Johnson said.
The perception difference concerning support groups, according to Dr. Jennifer Kasey, a Nashville-based licensed psychologist, thrives within African-American communities and keeps many from seeking needed support.
“This negative association towards support groups from minority patients derived from minorities sharing information to obtain assistance, only to have that information utilized to harm, take advantage, or reduce their rights as human beings,” Kasey said. “As a result, many African Americans have taught their children to look within themselves and family members to cope with all situations that arise in life. However, individuals born in this generation are not equipped to deal or harbor those feelings internally without negatively affecting their wellbeing.”
Kasey said that support groups may be ideal for those who want the feel of community without seeking one-on-one counseling for life concerns.
“In the scientific community, we have seen evidence to show how poor social ties and social isolation yields increased mortality risks. Many of these begin as lifestyle issues that people attempt to address each new year. There is also a strong association between favorable social exchange and reduced psychotic disorders,” Kasey said. “Recall, the goal of receiving support is to get to the point where you can go about your day without additional assistance.”