Online Support Groups

The internet has been a great force in bringing convenience to our lives where there was none before. It helps us deposit checks without going to the bank, it allows us to get groceries without leaving the house, and we can conduct interviews with potential employees living halfway across the world without having to get on a plane (thank you, video chat!). There is no denying that the world wide web helps us to complete our tasks with ease and efficiency.  

Despite our reliance on the internet and social media, there is no shortage of criticism associated with it either. Since the study conducted on the psychological effects of the internet was published by Kraut et al. (1998), there has been increasing discourse surrounding the topic of whether becoming more interconnected online is making us feel less connected in “real-life”. Kraut et al. (1998) found that internet use was associated with decreased levels of communication and increased rates of depression. A simple Google search with the key words “social media” and “mental health” will yield an endless stream of cautionary articles.

Recently, the tables have turned and researchers and reporters are focusing on the positive psychological effects of internet use (Shaw, L. H. & Gant, L. M., 2002; Dell’Antonia, 2015). Even Kraut et al. (2002) have revisited their 1998 study and have found that the negative effects of internet use (for communication) that they discovered do not hold up. It has been found that using the internet to communicate may decrease feelings of depression and loneliness and positively impact feelings of support and self-esteem (Shaw & Gant, 2002) - great news all around!

With the increasing amount of time we spend at work, the less time we have to care for ourselves. Even with financial resources or EAP/benefits to cover visits with a counselor, we do not always find the time, or are in need of something more, like peer-support. There are several support groups that exist online, and with enough searching we can find one with a community we can relate to. It can be worthwhile to engage in these chats after noticing dips in productivity at work related to our mood, or changes in our feelings of psychological well-being. It can be beneficial to read and share coping strategies with others going through similar situations. You can learn more about the benefits of peer-support here along with strategies to incorporate peer-support into your life and workplace. 

Benefits of seeking support online:

  • Help is available anytime and anywhere (as long as you are connected to the internet)
  • It is affordable (usually free)
  • It allows us to remain anonymous if you want it to 
  • Allows you to connect to individuals across the globe going through similar situations

Drawbacks of seeking support online

  • It is not a replacement for in-person support or medical support
  • It requires a certain level of tech-savyness and access to computers
  • The quality of support varies considerably between various sites and portals

 

The following are examples of online support groups:
www.sicknotweak.com is the soon-to-launch website of Michael Landsberg (of TSN).
https://www.7cupsoftea.com/about/about.php (geared toward depression) 
http://psychcentral.com/resources/Mental_Health/Support_Groups/ (list of various online support groups)


Do you think the internet helps or hinders our mental health? Is there adequate mental health support online? Would you use online support groups or recommend them to an employee or colleague? Do you have any great resources you would like to share? Please post below! 



References

Dell’Antonia, K. J. (2015, August 6). Teenagers leading happy, connected lives online. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://parenting.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/08/06/teenagers-leading-happy-connected-lives-online/?_r=0

Kraut, R., Kiesler, S., Boneva, B., Cummings, J., Helgeson, V., & Crawford, A. (2002). Internet paradox revisited. Journal of Social Issues, 58(1), 49-74. doi: 10.1111/1540-4560.00248

Kraut, R., Patterson, M., Lundmark, V., Kiesler, S., Mukophadhyay, T., & Scherlis, W. (1998). Internet paradox: A social technology that reduces social involvement and psychological well-being? American Psychologist, 53(9), 1017-1031. doi: 10.10.37/0003-066X.53.9.1017

Shaw, L. H. & Gant, L. M. (2002). In defense of the internet: The relationship between internet communication and depression, loneliness, self-Esteem, and perceived social support . Cyber Psychology & Behaviour, 5(2), 157-171. doi: 10.1089/109493102753770552