Funder by the Department of Human Services Auspiced by Our Community

Help Sheet

Joining a group

Joining a group might be something you are used to, and something you feel really comfortable about.

But for others it can be a bit daunting. It might have been a while since you've done something regular with other people.

The idea of joining a group might come about because you've heard about it from someone you know, or because a staff member thinks you might be interested, or because you've seen an ad in a newsletter, and think: 'That sounds interesting, I wonder if it's for me'.

We all have different reasons for joining groups, and we all have different expectations about what they will be like. That's why there will never be a shortage of new groups - as people figure out what's already there, and what doesn't exist yet.

Whether you're a stand-up poet looking for other consumers who read their poetry in public places, or you're a single mother looking for some mutual peer support, there will probably be a group out there for you, or at least other people who may be interested in joining with you to form one.

What kind of group are you interested in?

There are lots of different consumer groups operating in Victoria. Most of them are small and informal. For this reason, it can be hard to locate them - they don't tend to have funds to advertise themselves so you're often most likely to hear about them through word of mouth.

The consumer groups that are associated with larger organisations are usually easier to find. For example, if you are involved with an accommodation service and the service also runs a peer support program, you are more likely to hear about the program from other consumers or because the staff know about the program and can refer you.

That said, if you are not already involved with a related organisation, or your interests are outside of what they tend to offer, it can be difficult to know where to start.

Among the first steps, then, is to think about what you are interested in. Some other things to think about might be:

Example:

You feel really strongly about the need to reduce community prejudice toward people with psychiatric disabilities - you would probably, therefore, be looking for a group that specialises in advocacy.

Is it important to you that the group works only on mental health issues? Or are you open to joining a group that has a broader outlook - for example, a disability group that is working on increasing employment opportunities for people with disabilities?

Do you want to use the arts to make your message heard, or do you want to be involved in active campaigning?

Do you want to be part of an organised group and learn how they operate? Or do big groups put you off? Perhaps you would rather just meet up on a regular basis with a few people who are working on a particular project?

Finding a group

Once you have figured out what kind of group you are looking for, the next thing is to find it!

The CDI Directory lists many of the groups in your neighbourhood, what they do, where they meet, and what their purposes are. Keep in mind though that not all groups are well known or advertise themselves.

Another place to contact is the Victorian Mental Illness Awareness Council (VMIAC - go to www.vmiac.com.au, which is a group that provides support, advocacy and referrals to people who are experiencing or have experienced emotional or mental distress, as well as information and education about mental health services to consumers of mental health services and the wider community.

Also, check with any agencies or services you might be involved in to see if they know of any groups in your local area that would suit your interests.

Choosing a group

When you choose a group, there are a few things you might want to investigate before making up your mind.

If the group has a website, or has a brochure, look at:

If there's not enough information in the available material, you might want to email or phone the group or a representative, or visit first to ask some questions.

Alternatively, you might want to just go along to a meeting to see if it feels like a good fit for your needs.

Joining a group

If you are nervous about joining a group, remind yourself that probably everyone else in the group felt like that in the beginning.

A good test is to think about how welcoming it feels for you in the group. If it does not feel very welcoming, it's good to remember that this is not your responsibility. Any good group will have ways of welcoming new members. If this is not the case, then it might help you in making a decision about whether you'll come back or not.

Also, remember that it's OK to pull out of a group for any reason. You don't have to explain why if you don't want to. A good group will not ask this of you, they will respect your decision, although they might want to give you the opportunity to give them feedback in case there's anything that they can learn from your experience.

Another thing to remember is that you do have something to contribute to the group, even if to begin with you're unsure or nervous. You might not feel like saying too much when you first join a group - that's perfectly understandable.

You might even find yourself being interested in what only one or two people have to say, and find yourself wanting to get to know these people first. That's also OK.

It is important to reflect on whether the group you are interested in becoming involved with really is the right group for you. There's nothing worse than coming out of your shell to be involved in something, giving it your best shot, and then having a bad experience and going back into your shell.

If things don't feel quite right, it's not because there's something wrong with you, nor even that there's something necessarily wrong with the group. Remember that joining a group is about the 'match' between who you are and who the group is.

Sometimes it turns out that the group you've joined isn't really for you after all. Remember this is not about there being a problem with you - it's a problem about the fit between what you want and what the group is about.

An initiative of Department of Human Services, Developed & Managed by www.ourcommunity.com.au