A self help group is formed by and for individuals who share a common experience or problem. The group might grow out of informal contacts between a small number of these individuals, or it could develop from local or national media coverage of the issues involved. It may be encouraged by a local health care professional, social worker, or existing voluntary organisation.
Self help groups are member-led which means that the direction the group takes will be decided by people who share the common experience. They do not usually involve professionals, unless professionals are asked to participate in some way.
There are tens of thousands of self help groups in the UK providing support for people with almost every health problem and in any situation. Research in the former Wessex Region of the NHS has suggested that there is probably one health self help group for every thousand people in the UK (about the same proportion as doctors). In the whole of the UK there could be 50,000 groups ranging from major national bodies down to small contact groups for rare disabilities which might have half a dozen members.
People go to self help groups:
- to meet people with similar experiences or sharing the same health condition.
- to get support and to give support to others.
- to get ideas on how to cope and where to get help elsewhere.
- to have time to talk with people who understand from personal experience.
Some groups may have a further objective to identify gaps in health or social service provision and to work with local and/or national service purchasers and providers to improve services.