Clearly, a social support network is essential to your continued well-being. It is well worth the time and care it takes to develop supportive relationships and to nurture and maintain them. You now know the specific steps you need to take to do this. Here are key recommendations that will allow you to get the maximum benefit from the support team you've built.

1. Do everything you can to keep yourself well and stable. Make your wellness your highest priority

2. Work on developing appropriate social skills if this is an issue for you. Address this in counseling or peer counseling sessions or in discussions with supporters.

3. Be an active member of a support group.

4. Be mutually supportive. This means being there for others when they need you just as you expect them to be there for you when you need them.

5. Be careful not to lean on any one friend too much. Turn to someone else instead. Being considerate of other people's needs is to your mutual benefit.

6. Educate your supporters about depression and manic depression so they will know what to expect and how to deal with problems if they come up.

7. You may want to have everyone in your support group meet and exchange phone numbers. Let supporters know who your health care professionals are, what roles they play, and how they can be contacted. One such meeting may suffice. Some people, however, feel more comfortable with ongoing meetings scheduled once a month or every two or three months.

8. Peer or exchange counsel with a supporter. Set up a regular time, such as 2:00 p.m. every Tuesday, to get together. Divide the time in half. During the first half, one person gets to talk, share, cry, or whatever, with the full attention of the other person. Then reverse the roles. This method tends to deepen relationships, helps people feel better about themselves, and may even help them sort out the answers to pressing problems. See chapter 11 on 'Peer Counseling.'

9. Make a list of your support team members with phone numbers. Strive for at least five people on your support team. As you implement the above strategies and enlist new supporters, update your list. It's difficult to remember who your supporters are when you need them most. Keep copies of this list by your phones, on your bedside table, and in your purse or pocket.

Resources

Copeland, M. (1992) The Depression Workbook: A Guide for Living With Depression and Manic Depression. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications. This book includes a chapter on developing and keeping a strong support team and support groups. Spaniol, L. and M. Koehier. (1994) The Experience of Recovery. Boston: Center for Psychosocial Rehabilitation. This highly recommended self help resource book is for anyone who has experienced psychiatric symptoms. Johnson, Julie T. (1994) Hidden Victims. This book contains excellent, easy-to-read section on starting your own self-help group.