Online Web Forums and Mental Health

More and more people are using online or web based forums to seek out advice. Why is this? Is it because of the anonymous nature? Is it because there is no other available options?

On a quick Google search, Reddit advice forums crop up. The advice pages range from general advice, relationship advice, dating advice, women specific advice, career guidance and even legal advice – yes, even legal advice.

The premise is for the user to login and engage with a network of online individuals who are supposed to provide some level of advice. Users discuss their problems and they are answered by the people of the internet. Every imaginable topic can be searched, questioned and debated on this forum. But, how safe and reliable is this information?

Along the same lines, the online community has mental health forums that offer support for those that need it. Sharing experiences and advice on medication can be useful, in helping people feel they are less alone and their experiences are not unique. The anonymous nature helps people connect more without the fear it can be traced or perhaps the judgement from friends, family and sometimes mental health professionals/doctors. It allows people to create their own persona, which can give them confidence when reaching out to the group.

That’s all great, but what if it goes wrong? What if the user is at a low point and is seeking genuine advice, and they receive poor advice? Or worse, they are made fun of, ridiculed or made to feel even more alone? What happens then?

These online forums have their benefits in connecting with others and sharing experiences, but it can go horribly wrong. Right now, there is a case ongoing in the United States with an individual online talking someone else into suicide by supporting their suicidal statements. Should they be held responsible? The user sought the community out for help, and instead, it turned fatal which ultimately could be avoided.

Here are some tips if you are reaching out online to these sub forums:

  1. Understand the individuals you will be conversing with are not professionals. In some cases, they may not have any more knowledge than you.
  2. Understand that just as you may be acting with a persona, they will be as well. Nobody acts 100% truthful on the internet.
  3. Understand that they cannot know the full extent of your struggle. Individuals that use these platforms are struggling with mental health issues themselves. In addition, they do not have your full medical history or know the full circumstances leading up to this particular incident.

In summary, these mental health forums can be helpful in creating a shared experience. However, there are risks associated with reaching out on the internet. Please be weary.

If you are experiencing mental health trouble, reach out to your doctor, friends/family or mental health professional.

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