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Many scientists in the West were initially skeptical of support groups. Now, they concede, however, that social support has profound psychological benefits that could help anybody who feels depressed. In fact, over the last 25 years, many studies have clearly shown that social isolation releases a flood of stress hormones into the blood that trigger off several psychological and physiological changes, including feelings of depression and anxiety, an increased heart rate, higher blood pressure, and impaired immune function.
On the other hand, well developed social networks perform the function of dams in the flood of depression stress hormones, thereby minimizing their presence in the bloodstream, and allowing the body to heal more efficiently and cope with stress more effectively.
Beyond fellowship, support groups could also provide important information about depression: The names of good psychiatrists and psychotherapists, first hand accounts of the side effects associated with the intake of anti–depressant, and self–care tips about surviving depression.
The camaraderie, laughter, and fellowship support groups encourage helps banish feelings of isolation. Since the helper and beneficiary are peers, everyone can be both. This exchange of support has a special meaning, and some believe it’s therapeutic in itself, because helping others boosts self–esteem. Support groups reduce isolation, empower and comfort. They teach practical coping skills. Sometimes, they also change public perception. And usually, they’re free.