The Truth About Cyber Support Groups

The Internet has brought people together in new and unexpected ways. It's not surprising then that the incidence of online support groups, or cyber support groups, is on the rise. And since Americans are increasingly turning to self-help techniques to improve their lives, we'll probably see cyber support groups continue to proliferate.

Mental health support groups in any format provide a safe environment where participants can share challenges, concerns, and ideas with others who have the same condition. While talking to a trained mental health professional can be invaluable for many patients, nothing compares to talking to others who are going through the same experience. Being part of a supportive community can make individuals feel less alone and help them develop new coping skills. There's even evidence that therapy support groups encourage participants to stick to their treatment.

Online support groups can take the form of discussion forums, blogs, live chats, mailing lists, news groups, and social media, such as Facebook. They offer a unique set of advantages—and a few warnings to heed.

Benefits of Online Support Groups

  • Enables people who live in rural areas (where support groups may not exist) or individuals who have transportation or mobility issues to participate.
  • Support is available any time, day or night.
  • Some people are embarrassed and hesitant to participate in support groups. Online communities give them an opportunity to benefit from a support group.
  • Mental health professionals moderate some cyber support groups, which maintains a level of formality and structure that enhances the group experience.
  • They are a safe venue to practice social skills and build confidence before employing these skills in a real-life situation.

Precautions to Take

  • You don't really know who is in the group. It's easy for someone to pose as a member and prey on vulnerable individuals.
  • Don't give out personal information, such as your address or phone number.
  • Be suspicious of groups that advocate a quick cure, a particular treatment, or who try to convince you to stop your treatment.
  • Avoid groups that focus on negative comments or complaining.
  • Don't get too isolated from your in-person social network.

You can find online support groups for specific illnesses, such as depression, bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive personality disorder, and schizophrenia. The Depression & Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA), for example, has online support group meetings for adults 18 and older. They meet at regularly scheduled times and follow a structured format.

Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder Support Group. Web.

Mayo Clinic. "Support groups: Share experiences about depression, mental health conditions." Web. 14 August 2009.

Depression & Bipolar support Alliance. "DBSA Online Support Group User Guide." Web. 21 February 2011.

MyTherapy Communities. Web.

Medscape Medical News. "Support Groups More Popular Than Ever - Embarrassment Not a Deterrent." Web.