The Internet has revolutionized the way people communicate, establish relationships, and get data. It has also enabled people to get fast information about health conditions, and people are increasingly turning to message boards and blogs to research mental health issues and gain support from others. Some doctors have expressed concerns about this new approach creating cyberchondria—an Internet-induced version of self-diagnosis that increases anxiety about health conditions—but forums can serve as an excellent self-help resource that fill the void left by long waits between appointments with therapists and doctors.
The Benefits of Support
Support groups have been around for generations, and Internet-based forums serve as modern versions of the tried-and-true support group. People who get peer support have better health outcomes, whether they’re struggling with diabetes or depression. Twelve-step programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous have helped millions of people recover from addiction, and psychiatric hospitals often use group therapy to expedite and improve treatment.
People with mental health conditions often face an endless stream of judgment. They may feel like they’re little more than their diagnoses. Friends and family tend to grow frustrated with the symptoms of mental health issues, and treatment providers may be primarily focused on diagnosing the condition and getting the right medication. Message boards give people the opportunity to network with people who have faced the same obstacles, to share experiences, commiserate over health-care mishaps, and gain judgment-free support.
With so many message boards out there, people with mental health issues can choose one that meets their needs and that shares their values. The GoodTherapy.org Community Forum is one such board; it features threads pertaining to a wide variety of issues and treatment types.
The Online Disinhibition Effect
The online disinhibition effect is the tendency of people to abandon their reservations and anxieties when they use the Internet. Although this phenomenon contributes to behaviors such as cyber bullying and adopting new identities online, it can also help people speak honestly and openly about their conditions on message boards. The anonymity of the Internet allows users to share their feelings openly without fear of identification and other real-life consequences. For people struggling with relationship problems, severe symptoms, and frightening diagnoses, the ability to share openly can provide welcome relief.
Access to More Information
A mental health diagnosis can be a frustrating and unwelcome event, and every person handles it differently. Some people do wonderfully on their first medication, while others have to spend years in therapy and try 12 medications before they settle on something that works. Networking with others gives people a window into the continuum of experiences, and arms them with helpful information. A person struggling with depression, for example, might find the side effects of his or her medication intolerable until the person reads online that side effects tend to get better in a few weeks. Seeing people overcome their worst symptoms and make progress with therapy and medication can serve as a powerful incentive to keep trying.
Mental health issues don’t have visible markers. Even highly successful, widely loved people can experience serious mental health conditions. The anonymity of forums allows them to share their experiences without concerns about how doing so might affect their careers or reputations. When these experiences are shared, they become a lot less scary. This can help to decrease the stigma associated with mental health conditions, and may even encourage people who are on the fence about treatment to seek help.
- Johnsen, J. K., Rosenvinge, J. H., & Gammon, D. (2002). Online group interaction and mental health: An analysis of three online discussion forums. Scandinavian Journal of Psychology, 43(5), 445-449. doi: 10.1111/1467-9450.00313
- Mayo Clinic Staff. (2012, August 01). Support groups: Make connections, get help. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/support-groups/MH00002
- Suler, J. (2004). The Online Disinhibition Effect. CyberPsychology and Behavior, 7(3), 321-326. doi: 10.1089/1094931041291295
© Copyright 2013 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved.
The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.