The Value of Online Communities for Mental Health Support
Published by: TELUS Health,
No matter what troubles you—depression, grief, anxiety, eating disorders, substance misuse, or other issues—there’s likely an online community ready to lend an understanding ear and extend a helping hand. Many find online communities a safe haven to address their concerns anonymously. Additionally, studies have confirmed that digital technologies, including online support boards, have tremendous potential to support participants and increase access to professional services.
Benefits of online support groups
Online communities, which include forums, discussion boards and chat rooms, allow users to interact with others who share similar problems and concerns. Many virtual communities are moderated by mental health professionals or regularly invite experts to participate. Those online communities with an expert presence add even more value to the group, as users can now access professional help from the comfort of home and the convenience of the keyboard.
Some of the benefits of joining an online community include:
Convenience—You can login and get support at any time, day or night.
Privacy—You can use a screen name and ask questions without embarrassment or fear of stigma.
Support—Online communities are a great way to receive support from peers and professionals alike.
Sense of belonging—It’s comforting to know that you’re not alone.
Opportunity to help others—Many people continue to participate in online communities long after their initial needs have been met, transitioning to the role of survivor or supporter helping others.
Empowerment—Access to information and support along with active participation can give you a sense of empowerment.
Understanding—Hearing stories of how others have coped and getting practical advice about various treatment options can give you a better idea of what to expect.
Relief—Being able to talk freely, openly, and honestly can also bring a sense of relief.
The effectiveness of online communities
Technology allows us to access professional help and get support from others who are suffering with the same issues. Research has shown that people with depression who participated in Internet support groups experienced a considerable reduction in their symptoms. Other studies show the potential of online support communities not only helps build individuals’ self-confidence in managing their mental health but also promotes the pursuit of seeking additional professional support. What’s more, a body of research shows that there are benefits to online support for many mental health-related issues including eating disorders, alcohol addiction, and, in general, fostering a sense of improvement in wellbeing.
Joining an online support group
Start by asking a health care provider for assistance. Your doctor, therapist, or psychologist may be able to recommend a support group for you based on your specific needs. Similarly, you can ask others you know with the same condition or life situation for suggestions, or contact an organization devoted to your issue, such as Mental Health America. Your organization’s assistance program is another great source of mental health information and resources.
Help, education, and peer support are readily available—online!