Currently accepted at: JMIR Mental Health
Date Submitted: May 18, 2018
Open Peer Review Period: May 19, 2018 - Jul 14, 2018
Date Accepted: Jan 9, 2019
(closed for review but you can still tweet)
Social connection and online engagement: Insights from users of a mental health online forum.
Over the past two decades, online forums for mental health support have emerged as an important tool for improving mental health and wellbeing. There has been important research which analyses the content of forum posts, studies on how and why individuals engage with forums, and how extensively forums are used. However, we still lack insights into key questions on the effectiveness of medical and health Internet tools, how they are experienced by their users, and how they might be best configured and deployed – especially in rural and remote settings, outside major cities and towns.
The aim of our study was to study the dynamics, benefits, and challenges of a peer-to-peer mental health online forum, from a user perspective. In particular, to better explore and understand user perspectives on connection, engagement, and support offered in such forums, information and advice they gained, and what issues they encountered. We studied both consumer and carer experiences of the forums.
In order to understand the experience of forum users, we devised a qualitative study utilising semi-structured interviews with 17 participants (12 women, 5 men). Data were transcribed, coded, and analysed via key themes.
The study found that participants: experienced considerable social and geographical isolation which the forums helped to address; sought out the forums as a way to find social connection that was lacking in their everyday lives; used the forums to both find and provide information and practical advice.
The study confirms that online peer support provides a critical, ongoing role in providing social connection for mental health consumers. In addition, the research shows forums also provide crucial information and advice for many in this study, especially those living in rural and remote areas. Key to the success of this online forum was careful configuration of moderation, deployment of professional support and advice.
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