Peer-to-Peer Health-Related Online Support Groups

Peer-to-Peer Health-Related Online Support Groups

Neil S. Coulson (University of Nottingham, UK)
Copyright: © 2018 |Pages: 15
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-2255-3.ch327

Abstract

In recent years, the Internet has provided new opportunities for individuals living with health-related problems to communicate with each other via online support groups. These groups offer many unique advantages, such as convenience, anonymity, and access to a diverse range of group members. However, there are potential disadvantages to their use, for example, misleading information. Within such groups, patients may talk about a range of issues and provide support to one another, particularly informational and emotional support. Through self-disclosure and empathic communication, members may feel able to share personal stories as well as help others. Whilst robust evidence for their effectiveness is lacking, there is much qualitative and cross-sectional evidence suggesting that participation in online support groups may be beneficial. However, there is an urgent need for randomised controlled trials of pure peer-to-peer online support interventions across both physical and mental health conditions.
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Background

Unique Characteristics of Online Support Communities

Online support groups present several unique communication characteristics, which can include anonymity, asynchronous text-based communication and the ability to transcend geographical and temporal barriers (White & Dorman, 2001; Joinson, 2003; Coulson & Knibb, 2007). These unique characteristics also give rise to a number of unique advantages and disadvantages for individuals choosing to seek support through the medium of online groups.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Social Support: The perception and actuality that one is cared for, has resources available from others and is part of a support network.

Lurking: When an individual does not actively post messages to a discussion forum but rather passively reads messages.

Self-Help Mechanisms: The therapeutic processes that may help oneself to address a challenge, crisis or difficult.

Deindividuation: When a person has a lower sense of self-awareness and ‘loses’ themselves within a larger group.

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