It can be difficult to find people with mental illness, like-minded people as we tend to isolate ourselves, but they can be found. And there are so many of us. We just need to break through the barrier of stigma and isolation to find each other. It is also important to meet other people who do not necessarily have mental illness, but may share a common interest. Both contacts can be extremely rewarding, and people with mental illness should not limit the wide range of people they can be connecting with.
Online is a great way to start meeting like minded people. ForLikeMinds has a large and diverse community – we have over 50 groups and thousands of members since launching a few months ago. You can meet people in groups and one-on-one. We seek to be the most helpful online mental health community ever. Meeting and starting to talk about your mental illness in a safe, convenient and anonymous environment may be very helpful and may make you feel more comfortable stepping out and pursuing in-person contacts.
In-person contacts can be a very rich and rewarding experience as you get to meet people face-to-face. You may not meet the same diversity of people as you might online, but it can still be highly beneficial. Starting with online contacts might help as a comfortable step towards more in-person contacts as well. There are a few places you can reach out to find or learn more about in person groups of people with mental illness, including your local NAMI affiliate the DBSA, Community Behavioral Health Organizations (search SAMHSA’s online Treatment Locator), and also Club Houses. You can check with other mental health not-for-profits as well. You’ll find a great list of them in our blog at Mental Health Not-for-Profits.
Non-mental health groups
I can’t stress enough that we must always remember that while mental illness is a part of us, it is not all of us. Many of us had interests that we found rewarding and pleasurable before we got sick. While our illness may have taken away our desire to pursue these activities, they may remain as enjoyable to us as they were before we got sick. It is important not to consider these pleasures lost. In fact, renewing these activities may be a very effective coping mechanism. In this regard, we should also look to mix with other people and not limit ourselves to people with mental illness. These people can help us explore activities and interest that are effective coping tools.
Think back to the time you were not sick, what interests or activities did you like to pursue? For me it was education. When I was still struggling to get well, I decided to try to return to learning by taking online courses. It was a start. It was not the best option as I remained isolated, but it was a start to in-person/in-class courses, which I eventually worked myself up to. These courses really helped in my recovery. They kept me out of bed, distracted and engaged. Finding activities is as easy as doing a google search for the activity and your city. You can also check the mental health non-profits, the YMCA, and your local library for options and even community colleges for continuing education classes. It’s good to go with a friend so that you have some companionship and motivation to go. It’s also good to pursue an activity/take a class where you’ll be actively engaged in doing the specific activity so that you don’t have to speak as often if you start to feel uncomfortable. Once you become more comfortable with this sort of activity you might want to try even more “social” activities such as a Meet Up group.
And don’t worry about those really annoying questions “what do you?” – I’d say I was taking a break, which was not untrue, planning to go back to school etc. If the person you meet starts asking you too many uncomfortable questions, don’t let it upset you they’re likely as nervous as you are, excuse yourself and move on. If you meet someone you like, suggest meeting up for coffee. It’s shorter than lunch or dinner and less intense. Don’t ever feel the need to disclose your mental illness. And when and if you feel comfortable sharing your illness, you may just discover that that person is suffering from mental illness as well or knows others with mental illness.
It’s great to meet, connect and share with other people with mental illness, but it can also be extremely rewarding to meet others who may not have mental illness. Remember that 1/5 people have mental illness. If you exclude yourself from the other 4/5 you’re really limiting yourself. I returned to something I had always loved and it helped me return to myself. We are all so much more than our illness and we can’t ever forget that.