Support and bereavement groups may play an important role in the emotional well-being of patients and their families as they are confronted with serious illness. Mayo Clinic encourages you to seek support from credible groups that can provide you with information, advice and understanding from peers and medical professionals. This website is designed to provide basic, objective information about support and bereavement groups.

Defining support and bereavement groups

Support groups are for people with a disease or the ill person's relatives who want to share their concerns with others and learn how to address disease-specific problems. Bereavement groups allow those who have lost a loved one to share their struggles with others who have experienced a similar loss.

Most support groups are "peer" groups, made up of people who have the same or a similar disease. A lay person or health professional may lead the group and, often, the moderator is a disease survivor. Some groups meet in a hospital setting, within a community agency, at a person's home, over the telephone or in online chat rooms. Bereavement groups also are peer-oriented, with those participating having lost a loved one.

Support groups can be structured in various ways. Some are organized based on the specific disease, while others are designed according to what stage of disease a person has. Some offer a focus such as therapy, education or coping skills, while others feature a less structured environment where members provide direction. Bereavement groups may be organized based on the relative a person has lost — child, parent or spouse. Those participating have had the same experience.

Benefits of support groups

Some people who have participated in support and bereavement groups say the experience gave them an emotional connection when they felt isolated from friends and family. A group can provide and share information ranging from disease research and new medications to how a bereaved person can cope during the first year after a loved one's death. People involved say this exchange of information is one of the most valuable elements of participating in a support or bereavement group. Moreover, support and bereavement groups offer people the opportunity to release powerful emotions they may otherwise keep to themselves. Health care providers say support groups can improve a participant's mood and decrease psychological distress.

When a support group isn't enough

Sometimes people with a disease, their loved one or a person who has lost a family member or friend may require help beyond a support group. If a support group isn't providing the help you need, contact your care provider to discuss your situation.