Do You Need A Support Group?

Whether joining or starting a group, make sure it fits your life.

Melissa Conrad StopplerBy Melissa Conrad Stoppler, M.D.


Editor's Note: While this columnist is no longer writing for and we have ceased to update the information contained herein, there is much to be read here that is still applicable to the lives of people with diabetes. If you wish to act on anything you learn here, be sure to consult your doctor first. Please enjoy the column!


August 2006 —Fact: Studies show that people with adequate social support networks experience fewer stress-related symptoms and illnesses than those without social support systems. For people living with diabetes, less stress often means better control of blood glucose levels. So could you benefit from a support group?

If you feel that you're bottling up stress and frustration, that no one really "listens" when you talk about your problems, or if you have concerns about living with diabetes and would like to benefit from others' insight and experience, a group might be ideal for you. On the other hand, if the group itself becomes yet another filled slot on your calendar, another commitment that robs you of much-needed personal time, you may shy away from making a commitment to a support group.

I was a member of only one support group in my lifetime, and the group quickly evolved from a structured gathering for airing medical concerns to a group of friends who met regularly for dinner to chat about all kinds of issues. I was lucky; this group expanded my social network and formed some long-term friendships. It was right for me at that time of my life. Now, as a working mom of three young children, my "down time" is precious and rare. In other words, I don't believe a support group would fit into my life at the moment. It's an individual choice that depends upon your own needs and schedule.

If you're thinking about starting a support group, or even doing a trial run, think about exactly what purpose the group should serve. These suggestions can help you get started:

  • Decide on a format. Do you want an informal roundtable discussion with everyone speaking in each session? Should you include short presentations by members on specific topics? Do you want to address specific issues or have a free-for-all discussion?
  • Limit the size of your group. Five to six members is generally an optimal size to allow everyone to speak without sacrificing a warm and friendly atmosphere.
  • Agree in advance about group leadership. Should one person assume the role of monitor, keeping the group on topic and assuring that everyone has a chance to speak? Should this role change at every session? Would you consider hiring a social worker or counselor to moderate some or all of the sessions?
  • Agree in advance upon a regular schedule and adhere to it, whether you meet monthly, weekly, or bi-weekly. Rescheduling or postponing "just this once" is a sure way to get off track. Consider holding online meetings if getting together is a strain on your schedules.
  • Make a contract at the beginning of the group concerning the number of times the group will meet. No one should feel trapped into an open-ended commitment. For example, you could agree to meet twice monthly for eight sessions, and then evaluate the group's progress and effectiveness. At the end of this time, those who would like to continue can then commit to another fixed number of sessions.
  • Don't go over the agreed-upon time limit for meetings, no matter how compelling the discussion. Members should not feel guilty about leaving when the allotted time is over.
  • Remember that this should be a rewarding experience and not just another filled slot on your calendar! Enjoy the chance to air your feelings, swap stories, and get to know the other members of your group. Try to find the humorous side of the issues and share a good laugh.

Read more of Melissa's columns here.


dLife's Viewpoints columnists are not all medical experts, but everyday people living with diabetes and sharing their personal experiences, most often at a set point in time. While their method of diabetes management may work for them, everyone is different. Please consult with your diabetes care team before acting on anything you read here to find out what will work best for you.

Last Modified Date: May 24, 2013

All content on is created and reviewed in compliance with our editorial policy.

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