Can online peer support groups help those with mental illness?

February 23, 2011

Millions of people dealing with health issues have found comfort sharing their stories online with others who experience similar ailments, but research on their clinical effectiveness is limited, and findings are mixed. Among people with mental illnesses, the results are sparser, even though research has shown that this group prefers online peer support groups over face-to-face support groups.

To that end, Mark Salzer, chair of the Rehabilitation Department at Temple University, studied the effectiveness of online peer support for people with a in what is only the second randomized, controlled trial of internet peer support – the first, also conducted by Salzer and colleagues – looked at its effectiveness among women newly diagnosed with breast cancer.

The study, which published this month in Social Science and Medicine, studied the well-being of 300 participants with severe mental illnesses including schizophrenia-spectrum, bipolar, and depressive disorders, who were assigned to an email list-serv, a bulletin board online community, or a control group.

After a year, Salzer and his group found that participation in the online peer support groups did not have much of an effect on the patients' well being from a statistical standpoint; however, Salzer did find evidence that the participants who were assigned to the online groups felt the groups were relevant, supportive, and beneficial.

"These groups likely provide some degree of comfort in sharing a similar experience," said Salzer. "While we can't yet quantify the benefit with our measurements, it does appear that participants benefit in online contacts with one another."

Salzer notes that the lack of statistical evidence for the effectiveness of these groups shouldn't deter doctors from allowing their patients to use them.

"If anything, clinicians should become more familiar with online groups because of their prevalence," he said. "They should be discussing their use with clients, and talking about ways to safely navigate online resources to get the maximum benefit."

Explore further: HIV phone support system studied

Related Stories

HIV phone support system studied

April 25, 2007

A U.S. scientist is starting a study to determine the effectiveness of telephone support groups for older people with the human immunodeficiency virus.

Postnatal depression can possibly be prevented drug-free

January 16, 2009

A heart-to-heart chat with a peer has proven an effective way to prevent postnatal depression in high risk women, cutting the risk of depression by 50%, according to a University of Toronto nursing study published in BMJ ...

Recommended for you

French teen finds 560,000 year-old tooth (Update)

July 28, 2015

A 16-year-old French volunteer archaeologist has found an adult tooth dating back around 560,000 years in southwestern France, in what researchers hailed as a "major discovery" Tuesday.

Oldest known Koran text fragments discovered

July 23, 2015

Two pages of text written on parchment that are believed to be sections of the Koran (Chapters 18 and 20) have been discovered by a PhD student in a British university library and are believed to be the oldest ever found. ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.