Schizophrenia affects around 3.5 million people in the United States, with the majority of patients being diagnosed in their late teens and early 20s.

Common symptoms of the chronic psychiatric disorder can include hallucinations, thought disorders, distortions of reality, and behavioral changes.

If you live with schizophrenia or know someone who does, you might benefit from online schizophrenia support groups. Here’s what you need to know.

Whether you’ve been diagnosed with schizophrenia or you’re supporting someone living with the condition, schizophrenia support groups might be a useful resource.

Schizophrenia support groups “are a great place to build social support, obtain resources and communicate with individuals with similar experiences. Support groups help people, but also family members and caregivers by answering questions and allowing appropriate expectations,” says Dr. Edward Singh, a psychiatrist with Orlando Health.

“Sitting and talking to those who are dealing with the same things you’re experiencing can help tremendously,” says Dr. Sanam Hafeez, a neuropsychologist and Columbia University faculty member. “Support group members can give each other tips, learn coping mechanisms from each other, share resources, and tell their stories in a safe, accepting environment.”

As for who might benefit from schizophrenia support groups, Singh explains, “Everyone can benefit from a support group, depending on the acuity of their symptoms. An individual with active paranoid delusions should seek treatment first to stabilize their symptoms prior to joining a group.”

A support group should run parallel to any doctor-prescribed treatment.

To make our selection of online schizophrenia support groups, we spoke to medical professionals for their recommendations. We also read reviews to find the support groups with the most satisfied users.

Schizophrenia is a serious condition that can impact a person’s life in a plethora of ways. So the support groups chosen were approved by medical professionals in the field, or have been created in partnership with recognized organizations.

We also prioritized a patient-first approach.

It’s worth noting that people experience conditions differently and, as such, require support that is tailored to their needs. As a result, we attempted to create a wide selection of schizophrenia support groups, each with differing benefits.

1. Best for students

Students with Psychosis

Students with Psychosis (SWP) is a global organization supporting college students who live with schizophrenia and other forms of psychosis.

The website says the organization currently “offers 28+ hours of programming each week, available at no cost to students and advocates globally.”

Per a press release, “Over the last year, SWP has served 500+ students — last fall there were 420+ hours of facilitated programming, including daily Zoom meetings, daily active text chats, peer support groups and more.”

By utilizing a range of support methods, including texting, peer-to-peer support, discussion groups, workshops, and speaker-led events, SWP is an accessible online support group.

Price: Free

2. Best online space

Schizophrenia Spectrum Support

Schizophrenia Spectrum Support is a support and discussion group specifically for people with schizophrenia. The support group was founded in collaboration between the Schizophrenia and Related Disorders Alliance of America (SARDAA) and Inspire, an online community offering support for a variety of health conditions.

Per the website, “In the midst of these challenging, isolating times, SARDAA’s partnership with Inspire provides a free, safe, and encouraging way for you to connect with others and get support.”

Price: Free

3. Best for peer-to-peer support

Supportiv

Supportiv is a peer support network. It pairs users with other people who are living with similar health conditions or working through the same issues.

Each conversation is guided by a trained moderator. The app stresses that it’s not therapy, but rather a form of peer-to-peer support with added guidance.

Users say, “I just really needed someone to talk to and that’s exactly what I got,” and “It was nice to feel understood.”

The app provides completely confidential support, and also offers relevant resources, such as articles, podcasts, and videos, during each chat.

Price: $15 for a 1-day subscription or $30 per month

4. Best for regular meetings

NAMI Connection Recovery Support Group

NAMI Connection Recovery Support Group is a free, peer-led support group. Rather than being specific to schizophrenia, the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) is available to all adults living with mental health conditions and psychosis.

Per the site, “You will gain insight from hearing the challenges and successes of others, and the groups are led by trained leaders who’ve been there.” There are groups meeting weekly or monthly depending on a person’s location.

Price: Free

5. Best for community

Schizophrenia.com

Schizophrenia.com offers several support forums, including one specifically for those diagnosed with the condition.

As an online community, Schizophrenia.com is a source of education, support, and information. It’s run by volunteers, many of whom are medically trained.

Groups include forums for people who have schizophrenia, family members and caregivers, medications and vitamins, and schizophrenia news.

The site also provides details of the latest research and news items related to schizophrenia.

Price: Free

6. Best for local connections

Schizophrenia Alliance

Schizophrenia Alliance is a self-help group for people diagnosed with schizophrenia and related conditions. Schizophrenia Alliance was founded by people living with the condition.

While support is currently available online amid the pandemic, Schizophrenia Alliance explains, “There are currently more than 40 groups meeting throughout 17 states, as well as [in] Russia, Kenya, India, Iran, and Hungary.”

As such, if you’re looking for an in-person support group when it’s safe to attend, Schizophrenia Alliance is a good resource.

Price: Free

What is the purpose of a schizophrenia support group?

Hafeez explains, “No matter how close you are to friends, family, or a medical professional, they may not be able to comprehend what you’re going through. It’s like the old adage, ‘You never know someone until you have walked a mile in their shoes.’”

As with any support group, an online schizophrenia support group helps people learn about and manage their conditions from home, while meeting peers managing similar symptoms and issues.

Your peers in the support group understand how living with schizophrenia can affect your career, relationships with friends and family, and romantic life, among other things.

Participating in a group may also create a sense of community, help you feel less lonely or judged, reduce depression, improve your skills to deal with challenges, and give you experience, strength, and hope.

Is a schizophrenia support group right for me?

Brian Wind, PhD, a clinical psychologist and chief clinical officer at JourneyPure, says, “It’s important to find a group where you feel accepted and supported.”

He continues, “Schizophrenia support groups allow people to seek support from a community who understands what they’re going through. It’s a safe place where people don’t have to fear being stigmatized and can get the resources they need. The support network can also help them recognize triggers, prevent them from being isolated and help them spot warning signs.”

Claire Riddiough, LCSW, a therapist at Pathways to Peace Counseling in Wisconsin says, “If you’ve been diagnosed with schizophrenia and feel like others don’t understand you, then a support group can be very helpful. There, you’ll realize you’re not alone in this.”

How do online support groups differ from in-person support groups?

Online support groups differ from in-person support groups by eliminating the need to venture out of the comforts of your home.

Although the benefits of online groups outweigh the negative, it’s important for people with schizophrenia, especially those with negative symptoms, to have social exposures, daily tasks, and errands.

During the pandemic, online support groups have become a necessity, and many people might find the convenience of meeting on the internet preferable to attending in-person groups.

“Online support groups may be easier for you to join from the privacy of your home, and you can easily join more support group meetings since it’s convenient to do so,” Wind explains. “You can also join support groups that you might not normally join due to travel time, the cost of travelling, or physical issues.”

How can I decide which option is best for me?

If you’re considering a schizophrenia support group, you may be unsure how to choose the best option for you and your condition.

It might help to answer a series of questions, like: Where does the group meet? What time and for how long do they meet? Are they accepting new members?

Hafeez explains that people might want to consider if confidentiality is important, or if they’re keen to transition into an in-person support group once circumstances allow.

“Are you someone who makes connections in person more easily than in the virtual world?” Hafeez asks. “Or do you live in an area that might be lacking in-person meetings where online is a necessity?”

As always, if you’re unsure, it’s okay to ask questions, research your options, and try out sessions at different places before committing to one group.

Online schizophrenia support groups are an essential resource for anyone living with the condition. While friends and family can be supportive, being able to talk with and rely upon peers with similar health journeys can be invaluable.

If you’re considering an online support group, it might mean you’re ready to find some like-minded people who truly understand the symptoms you live with, which can be a really powerful tool.

Amy Mackelden is the weekend editor at Harper’s BAZAAR, and her bylines include Cosmopolitan, Marie Claire, ELLE, The Independent, Nicki Swift, Bustle, xoJane, and HelloGiggles. She’s written about health for MS Society, MS Trust, The Checkup, The Paper Gown, Folks, HelloFlo, Greatist, and Byrdie. She has an unhealthy love for the “Saw” movies and previously spent all her money on Kylie Cosmetics. Find her on Instagram.