For over 25 years, one group in West Philadelphia has been meeting regularly so that participants can learn to cope with the stigma of mental illness.
DBSA-HUP (the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance) has been meeting twice a month at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. Meeting attendees share stories about what it's like to live with mental health challenges. They talk about what their experiences have been, but they don't offer advice or tell each other what to do. They deliberately do not provide advice in order to create an atmosphere where no one will be judged or criticized. This is crucial in creating a space where it is ok to talk about things most people feel ashamed to talk about in a world full of stigma against those labeled as "mentally ill." These peer-facilitated meetings try to create an oasis in the desert of stigma.
The meetings last about two hours, and everyone who wants to gets a chance to talk about whatever they want to. Typically, people talk about the struggles they have been going through, and others provide support by talking about things they have done to try to cope with similar struggles. The group works hard to create a supportive environment so that people can talk about whatever they want.
It isn't therapy, because there are no credentialed professionals running the meeting. It's just people telling the truth about what it's like to live with these challenges. For some people, it is a very healing experience. For others, it can be challenging just to make it to a meeting or to keep coming back.
Anyone interested in attending meetings should email here, and they will be sent informaiton about the meeting location. The meetings happen on the second and fourth Wednesday evenings of each month at 7 PM. If you're tired of dealing with the stigma of mental healtth on your own, this is a place you might find comfort and support. Meetings are free, so it is an affordable way to get support if you can get yourself to a meeting (which is not easy for some attendees). Donations are accepted, but not required in order to attend.