A support group can be a big help to anyone who is living with a health condition or going through a difficult time. People with fibromyalgia are no different. By attending a local fibromyalgia support group, you can learn tips and tricks, make friends, and finally feel like you’re not the only one going through this. If you can’t find a local support group, don’t worry. Starting a support group yourself is simpler than you think.

Decide what the focus of your fibromyalgia support group will be

This will determine who comes to your fibromyalgia support group. Do you want to invite anyone with a chronic pain condition? Only people with fibromyalgia? People with fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue syndrome? Can family and friends come along?

Consider who you want to come and what will make them comfortable. For instance, if your group is focusing solely on fibromyalgia, will your attendees be comfortable discussing the relationship challenges of fibromyalgia if their spouses are there, too?

Your targeted group of attendees must be large enough to keep the support group running, since a meeting with just three people will likely dissolve fairly quickly. At the same time, a support group that’s too big to sustain can bring an end to the meetings, too; the benefits of a small, local support group will go out the window if you’ve got an entire church-full of attendees.

Where you live will play into this step. If you’re in a big city, keep the focus fairly narrow. If you’re in a very small rural town, consider widening your pool of attendees.

Elect a leader (or leaders)

The person in charge needs to be good at organization and planning. He or she must also be good at taking charge during meetings to make sure they stay on track, as well as friendly and sociable enough to be approachable. If this doesn’t describe you, look for a friend to act as your co-leader.

You might also consider trying to get one or more experts involved. This might be as simple as asking a rheumatologist to come to a single meeting for a Q&A session, or perhaps you’re good friends with a nurse practitioner who’s willing to spend ten minutes per meeting giving health tips. Just be consistent and honest. Don’t advertise that you’ll have a rheumatologist at your fibromyalgia support group every single week if that’s not true.

Choose a location

Your projected attendance will impact this. Keep in mind that your fibromyalgia support group may grow over time. If your first meeting is a half dozen people, don’t immediately assume that your living room will work as the permanent meeting space.

A few places to look into to host your support group include:

  • Schools
  • Colleges
  • Community centers
  • Libraries
  • Churches

Any place that’s large enough to host your support group is a possibility. Of course, free places are preferred. Make sure you go through the proper channels and get all the right permission forms in advance.

Also, keep in mind what you’ll be doing at your fibromyalgia support group meetings. Will you be watching informational movies? If so, make sure your chosen location has a TV and DVD player available. If you plan to serve refreshments, make sure you’re allowed to bring food and drinks on the premises.

Put the word out

One easy way to do this is to design a poster for your support group. Include the group’s name, a brief description, meeting times and places, and contact information. Consider setting up a separate email for your support group, by the way – you don’t need to be publicizing your private contact info.

Once you’ve got your poster ready, ask permission to post it in physicians’ offices, hospital bulletin boards, community center and library events boards, and anywhere else you can think of.

Contact local newspapers, TV stations, or radio stations, and ask if they can put your support group’s information out. If there’s a similar support group nearby, ask if they’d be willing to refer people to your group. Offer to do the same once your own support group grows enough, but don’t be pushy.

If you’re part of any online support groups, post information about your local support group. Use social media to promote your group, too. Once your group is up and running, having an active online element can encourage a lot of group unity.

Have a set meeting schedule

It’s all about consistency. Meet every single Thursday, or meet every other Monday. Whatever day or schedule you set for your meeting times, stick to it. Very information-heavy support groups, such as groups that have a different expert giving a lecture each meeting, can meet every other week or even once a month. If your group is more focused on social connections and support, meet a little more often. Be wary of meeting more than once per week, though. It can quickly get overwhelming, both for the leaders and the attendees.

Also keep consistent during meetings. An article at HealthCentral.com suggests the following meeting schedule:

  • Welcome and announcements: 15 minutes
  • Program and speaker: 45 minutes
  • Questions and discussion: 30 minutes

Consider your own preferences. You likely don’t enjoy meetings that drag on and on, so keep it fairly short. Offer some refreshments afterwards, so that attendees have a chance to interact. If you’re not able to pay for the refreshments yourself on a regular basis, you can ask for volunteers to take turns bringing in refreshments. Alternately, put a jar out labeled “refreshment fund” and ask everyone to give a little bit, if they’re able.

If you’ve got any lingering questions about starting your own support group, go to this checklist. It’s specifically for starting an obsessive-compulsives support group, but it can still work well for a fibromyalgia support group (or whatever other type of support group you want to start).

Are you planning to start a local fibromyalgia support group?

Image by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Europe District via Flickr

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