Why Online Support Groups can be Good for Your Health
By Alicia Armeli

OnlineSupprtGroups

From apps that track your meals, sleep patterns, and heart rate to instantly accessing online medical records—the Internet actively takes care of its users.

And according to recent studies, logging on can do something even more priceless—like provide individuals with a sense of belonging that may reduce stress, improve mood, and increase quality of life.

The number of people searching the Internet for health information is on the rise. Pew Internet Project Surveys reported that eight out of ten users search online for health information, making it the third most popular online activity.1

Among the millions of websites that users have to choose from, a particular type of social media has surfaced as a popular resource for health information—online support groups.

Online support groups may be formed by nonprofit organizations, health clinics, advocacy groups, or even by a person affected by a specific health condition.2 And they serve the same purpose as those offline—bringing together individuals who have similar health interests and concerns.

But why join an online support group?

Online support group popularity has grown for many reasons—one of which stems from comfort and convenience. Chat rooms and message boards don’t have time or location restrictions.3 This can be useful for people who are homebound because information, advice, and support are made accessible in the privacy of their own homes.

What’s more, studies have found that once shielded by the invisibility of a computer screen, people find it easier to discuss topics they may consider otherwise embarrassing. This silent but strong support involves little to no emotional vulnerability.3

But far beyond comfort and anonymity, research shows that people participate in online support groups for another powerful reason—to offer their support to others.3

Online support groups may be a significant resource to people who face rare medical issues—especially those of which society may minimize. When people are connecting because they have something in common, it can help to normalize what’s happening and simultaneously offer empathy.4

And it’s this empathy and support that recent studies reveal may be the root of several health benefits.

When just diagnosed with an illness or living daily with symptoms, many can experience psychological, social and physical distress. Online support groups can help people cope with these stressors by improving mood and decreasing stress, thus speeding up recovery and increasing quality of life.3 5

“Certain studies have found that expressions of empathy, support, and personal narrative are some of the most common types of communication content in online support groups,” wrote Heidi Hammond, author of the article Social Interest, Empathy, and Online Support Groups4 published earlier this year in the Journal of Individual Psychology. It was found that “more active participation in an online support group was related to a reduction in distress later on.”

And this finding holds true in the world of fibroid support. Social networks like Facebook6 are full of private online support groups that offer a space for women to ask questions, read informational articles, share their stories, and receive words of encouragement from thousands of women who can relate to what they’re going through.

In reference to a Facebook fibroid support group, one woman wrote, “I just love this group. The support, motivation, encouragement, knowledge and laughs it gives us all.”

Another post welcomed new members, “You have come to the right place. These girls are like my family! So supportive and a wealth of knowledge…this group has kept me sane!”

Online support groups have much to offer individuals, but this virtual interaction should never take the place of in-person medical intervention. Each woman is unique and in order to receive tailored fibroid treatment, open communication must occur between every woman and her physician.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR   Alicia Armeli is a Freelance Writer and Photographer, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, and Certified Holistic Life Coach. She has master’s degrees in English Education and Nutrition. Through her writing, she empowers readers to live optimally by building awareness surrounding issues that impact health and wellbeing. In addition to writing, she enjoys singing, traveling abroad and volunteering with her local animal shelter.

 

REFERENCES

  1. Pew Research Center. (2011). Health Information is a Popular Pursuit Online. Retrieved December 10, 2015, from http://www.pewinternet.org/2011/02/01/health-information-is-a-popular-pursuit-online/#fn-341-1
  2. Mayo Clinic. (2015). Support Groups: Make Connections, Get Help. Retrieved December 10, 2015 from http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/support-groups/art-20044655?pg=1
  3. Chung, J. E. (2014). Social networking in online support groups for health: how online social networking benefits patients. Journal of Health Communication, 19: 639–659. doi: 10.1080/10810730.2012.757396
  4. Hammond, H. (2015). Social interest, empathy, and online support groups. The Journal of Individual Psychology, 71(2): 174-184. doi: 10.1353/jip.2015.0008
  5. Sundar, S. S. (2015). The handbook of the psychology of communication technology. West Sussex, UK: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
  6. Facebook. (2015). Retrieved December 14, 2015, from https://www.facebook.com/