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Helping People To
Help One Another
Jeanne Rohach
By Jeanne Rohach
Trainer and Group Consultant

See caption below
Meeting and talking to someone else who has had a similar experience can dissipate the loneliness and isolation that is often felt when facing a life altering situation.

Municipal officials may find themselves in the position of seeking resources for community members in need. Perhaps there is a parent who has an adult child diagnosed with a mental illness, or someone in your community living with AIDS, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, a drug addiction, an eating disorder, a head or brain injury, a gambling addiction, or a weight problem. There are a myriad of health-related as well as other difficult life situations that may impact the well being of some community members. Those struggling with these life adversities may contact municipal offices in search of assistance and referrals.

One such referral to consider is the New Jersey Self-Help Group Clearinghouse. Since its establishment in 1981, the Clearinghouse, funded by the Division of Mental Health Services and sponsored by Saint Clare’s Health System, helps New Jersey residents to find and form self-help support groups. Self-help support groups have received international recognition as an alternative to coping alone or as an adjunct for people whose problems or needs are not completely met through social services, counseling programs, and traditional healthcare.

There are literally thousands of self-help support groups that meet in New Jersey.

A unique characteristic of support groups is the common bond of experiential knowledge that exists among the members. The knowledge and understanding that is gained from experience is a source of education and emotional support for group members. Meeting and talking to someone else who has had a similar experience can dissipate the loneliness and isolation that is often felt when facing a life altering situation.

Though self-help groups are not meant to replace needed professional services, they can supplement and sometimes prevent the need for them. Because the cost of participation in self-help support groups is low or non-existent, they have become a primary, cost-efficient community resource for the healthcare and social service systems which are often facing financial constraints.

The first statewide and the first computerized operation of its type in the nation, the Clearinghouse maintains a database of contact information on over 4,500 mutual aid self-help groups within New Jersey, over 1,000 national, model, international and online self-help groups, and over 400 New Jersey and national toll-free specialty helplines, local community helplines and psychiatric emergency helplines, and mental health resources. Information about these resources is available through the Clearinghouse statewide toll-free helpline, 1-800-FOR-M.A.SH. (Mutual Aid Self Help) or 1-800-367-6274. While the focus of the Clearinghouse is on self-help groups that are run by the members themselves, included in the database are some support groups that are run by professionals if the meetings are free and the purpose of the group is mutual support among peers.

How to Connect Citizens
with Support Groups

1. Call the Clearinghouse toll-free helpline and ask for a stack of free brochures to display in the lobby of the municipal building and any other area that is heavily trafficked by families living in your community.
2. Invite representatives of local support groups to host a table and participate in health fairs and community fairs. Reaching prospective members is a necessary component of operating a self-help group. Support groups are not listed in telephone books and typically do not have the funds for advertising.
3. Offer free meeting space to a support group in need.
4. Educate your community about the benefits and variety of support groups in your area. Sponsor a “support group fair” and invite representatives to host a table & provide a brief presentation.
5. List the self-help support groups that meet in your area on the town website.
6. Print an article in your township newsletter providing descriptions and contact information on support groups that meet in the area.
7. Include the contact information of support groups in your area directory.

The support groups listed on the Clearinghouse database cover a very broad spectrum of adversities such as addictions, grief, disabilities, abuse, mental health, care giving, health, parenting, family concerns, and rare illness, among many others. Callers to the Clearinghouse are often surprised to learn of the vast array of groups established for very specific conditions or situations.

When there is not a local support group available to meet the specific need of a caller, they are offered the opportunity to work with a Clearinghouse consultant who will provide free assistance in starting a self-help group. Since its establishment, the Clearinghouse has helped to develop over 1, 250 new volunteer-run self-help groups which include over a dozen that have become national or international. The Clearinghouse has also collected, and developed, a wide range of printed material related to self-help which consultants can provide free of charge to people starting new groups.

In addition, the Clearinghouse conducts an average of 12 free training workshops per year teaching strategies and techniques on the development of new groups and the maintenance of existing groups. Finally, in addition to the statewide toll-free helpline, assistance with the development of new groups, and the training services, the Clearinghouse annually publishes The Self-Help Support Group Directory, the most comprehensive resource guide to support groups available in New Jersey.

For more information on finding or forming a self-help support group in your municipality contact the NJ Self-Help Group Clearinghouse at 1-800-367-6274





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