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Birds of a feather flock together. At least that’s true when it comes to readers who join book clubs, “foodies” who gather for gourmet groups, and runners who pound the pavement en masse. But when it comes to medical conditions, too many people choose to suffer in silence.

Today, there are support groups for just about any condition. Support groups are organizations for people who share a common conditions or challenges-from diabetes and heart conditions to eating disorders and grief recovery. Groups typically meet on a regular basis so members can discuss their experiences, share ideas and provide emotional support for one another. In fact, support group members often report the biggest benefit is that they no longer feel alone.

In all fairness, support groups are not for everyone. But if you’re thinking about trying one on for size, here are a few important considerations:

1. Open groups – Open groups typically allow anyone to attend at whatever time they choose. For example, group members may choose to attend when they have received a new diagnosis, while they’re considering treatment options or when they need help during periods of stress.

2. Closed groups – Closed groups, on the other hand, rely on the consistency of the same members in attendance each time. Trust among members is particular important in this scenario, and strong personal bonds typically form.

3. Group leadership – Many educational support groups are facilitated by professionals like physicians, health educators and counselors. Others may be led by volunteers who have gone through a particular illness or trauma. There are pros and cons to each, so it comes down to personal preference. Do you want more of an educational slant or do you need a sympathetic ear?

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