In the mid-1980s, support groups were slowly becoming a national phenomenon. Patients began for the first time to meet outside of hospitals to help one another overcome illness-related problems such as feeling alone, bewildered and in need of companions to offer solace and problem-solving techniques.
In 1986, Ruth Deming, now an award-winning mental health advocate and published writer, founded the first community support group in Philadelphia for mood disorders. Diagnosed in 1984 at age 38 with bipolar disorder, Ruth describes herself as “staggered by the enormity of the diagnosis” and feeling “ill-equipped and terrified” in knowing how to deal with it. Her words in brief:
“I was quite simply a regular person, a divorced single parent of two young children, a respected newspaper writer and assistant editor of an art publication, and suddenly, out of the blue, this terrible thing happened to me: I suffered a nervous breakdown – a manic-psychotic episode – and landed in the hospital. Even though I quickly returned to my productive life, the recovery of my mind was slow. I felt like I’d fallen off the merry-go-round of life and wanted desperately to get back on. The one thing I needed was to be around other people with my condition, so I put an ad in the local paper and 9 people showed up at my Hatboro, PA apartment for the first meeting.
“Over the years I climbed back onto the merry-go-round of life through daily techniques I perfected and which became habits. (See “Keys to Recovery.”) It’s my greatest pleasure to nurture other people toward recovery. Recovery is the job of your life and must be attended to every moment of the day. Nothing short of discipline, training, and boundless love of life are required. As are medicine and a change of lifestyle.”