Support groups can be a powerful tool in the treatment of depression. They encourage the person with depression to get out and interact with others. They teach the depressed person that he or she is not alone. A support group is also a great environment for learning and practicing new coping strategies. For all the positives a support group offers, leading a depression support group can be a challenge. People with depression are often reluctant to start conversations. That's why it's a good idea to plan activities that prompt group members to participate in discussions and to engage with others.
One excellent support group activity is to pass out pens and paper and have each member of the group write a letter to his or her depression. Encourage participants to turn off their inner editors and write freely, letting the first things that come into their minds flow onto the paper. Emphasize that spelling and grammar are not important but honesty is. Give group members 10 or 15 minutes to write. Then ask those group members who feel comfortable doing so to share what they have written. You will probably find that several common themes emerge. This exercise can help people with depression feel less isolated. Some members may even realize that they have gotten some benefit from their experience of depression.
Another simple activity is to have each group member describe a time when he or she experienced happiness. Ask the participants to describe their happy times in detail. Where were they? What was the time of day? What were they doing? Were they doing something then that they are no longer doing now? This exercise has two therapeutic purposes. The first is to help group members realize that happiness is possible. They have experienced it at least once, and they will experience it again. The second purpose is to help members identify enjoyable activities that they have allowed to fall by the wayside as their depression grew worse.
Education about healthy lifestyle choices such as getting enough sleep and eating healthy foods is an important component of any depression support group. Ask each member of the group to pick one habit he or she would like to replace with a new, healthier behavior. The next time the group meets, ask the participants to talk about the changes they made and what effect - if any - those changes had on their level of depression. This activity allows group members to experiment with making healthier choices in a supportive, nurturing environment.
Offering imaginative therapeutic activities can help make your support group a success. Activities allow participants to engage with each other and try out new concepts and behaviors in a safe space.