Until recently, support groups tended to be local and face-to-face. Yet as people become more familiar with technology, the trend toward more online support groups is growing. And for good reason: there are countless benefits to seeking support of others on the Internet.
Throughout research for our various clients, particularly those in the healthcare space, we’ve uncovered a variety of these support and “mental health e-groups,” which are often started simply because the creator needs an outlet to talk to others with the same experience.
The Pew Internet and American Life Project estimates that 18 percent of web users who are living with an illness or going through a personal situation participate in an online discussion or group forum. That percentage is much higher for those who are simply Googling for answers.
Connecting with others online is a still a new concept for some, though, and there can be benefits, including:
Immediacy & Anonymity: There is something to be said about receiving an almost instant response from someone going through the same issues halfway across the world. By reaching out to others online, you have the flexibility of connecting when it is convenient. E-support groups have opened up a new world for those that were previously too nervous to go to a local support group, where for some the barrier was a lack of anonymity, or being unsure where to find others going through similar issues. People tend to be more open and honest online, leading to a better discussion.
Abundancy: Seeking out online support groups instead of a local group means reaching out to perhaps even thousands more human beings going through the same situation. The topics of these groups are abundant – from mothers caring for special needs children, to people recently diagnosed with serious illnesses and adults dealing with aging parents.
Ability to be helpful: Assisting others through the tough times has become an important part of the therapy process for many. Many people participating in online support groups have found a kind of second family; a family that understands the ups and downs, the good times and the bad.
There are, of course, downsides to turning to the web for support. Nothing will ever replace human interaction, be it with a family member or friend or psychologist. But turning to peers on the web certainly doesn’t hurt, and may be just the push someone who needs help requires to get them out to talk to someone in the flesh.
Dealing with illnesses or life transitions is never an easy thing, and the support of others – online or off - who are going through the same experiences can make all the difference.