The diagnosis of a chronic illness is distressing. It is common to feel grief, denial, anger, sadness and even shame but these emotions can fade with time when the illness is managed correctly.
Seeing a therapist or participating in a support group with like-minded individuals are two common forms of therapy used to soothe an individual’s anxiety about their chronic disease. Cultivating a social support system with a mental health professional, peers, friends, and family is essential to successful chronic disease self-management.
Where do I start?
The Ontario Association of Mental Health Professionals has an online ‘Find a Professional’ feature that users can use to locate registered counsellors specialized in various chronic illnesses (such as anxiety, depression, eating disorders, etc.) across the nation.
Psychology Today is a reputable website that is continuously updated with information about conditions impacting mental health. Using their ‘Find a Therapist’ feature and specific filters, users can locate chronic illness counsellors, treatment centers, and support groups in their community.
Online and community resources
Listed below are community organizations that offer online or in-person support groups for individuals affected by a chronic illness:
- Daily Strength: A social platform for individuals affected by a chronic disease. There are multiple online support groups and forums that can be accessed based on the specific interests of the user. Allows the user to see exactly how many individuals are online to participate and therefore peer support can be accessed most of the day rather than being restricted to scheduled times.
- Patients Like Me: Users can create an online profile with the details of their chronic illness diagnosis and track the progress of their self-management through medication adherence and lifestyle changes. After set-up, users can benefit from virtual and/or social interaction with similar patients and even learn about ways to better cope with their illness.
- Gilda’s Club: Originally founded in New York and with clubhouses all across the USA, Gilda’s club has expanded into Ontario within the regions of the Greater Toronto Area and Simcoe/Muskoka. They are a cancer support network and organize support groups, healthy lifestyle workshops, mind-body classes, social activities, educational lectures and community resource information – completely free of charge.
- Gutsy Peer Support: Affiliated with Crohn’s and Colitis Canada, this organization matches mentors (experienced individual living with gastrointestinal chronic disease) with mentees (newly diagnosed patients or their caregivers). They facilitate an email-based peer support exchange of non-clinical advice on how to deal with aspects of everyday living with a gastrointestinal chronic illness. This is a volunteer-run program and an application must be submitted to be approved for this free service.
- Wellspring: With 4 locations in the Greater Toronto Area and another in London for those living in Western Ontario, Wellspring offers emotional (in addition to physical, informational, and practical) support programs for individuals at any stage of their cancer journey. Some counselling and therapy programs can even be accessed online. All programs are free of charge and do not require official referrals to access. Interested individuals must complete a membership form at any Wellspring facility or through their website (assistance available) to begin utilizing their services.