I was in the process of completing work in my Research Methods class and I came across an ideal that I never really paid much attention to. This ideal is online support groups for individuals who are sick. “Social support groups provide mutual aid and self-help for people facing chronic disease, life-threatening illness and dependency issues.” (Cline 1999, as cited Dorman White 2001) Once I came across this new form of therapy, I asked myself is it really effective? The reason I ask this is because this would be a new form of digital storytelling; people using the World Wide Web to share their stories and help others going through the same thing. There are hundreds of online support groups for illnesses such as cancer, AIDS, heart disease and more. On my hunt I came across some that seemed like they really protect and care for their own. Then there were some that were not so serious. In my hypothesis it seems that these support groups are great for a lot of individuals but I wanted to go on my hunt for further research of this new digital storytelling.
In these social support groups people help each other manage pain, discuss life and death, give advice regarding their condition and be a listening ear to help each other. Studies have found that these support groups are so well liked because of the anonymity they present. (Dorman, White 2001) While telling your story online you feel more open to relay your messages because no one is present to present any judgment right before you. Some other benefits noted are your socioeconomic or race is not presented, there is 24 hour, 7 day a week access, and it is more sensitive to discussing certain topics such as sexual abuse or aids. (Dorman, White 2001) While researching this topic it seems that there are also some cons to social support groups; such as online messages can be misinterpreted. This means that although someone may be going through a similar illness, each case is completely different. Using someone else’s methods can be very unhealthy. Another con is information may be inaccurate and since it is done online corrections may take place but they may be read or seen too late. Also, people can tend to use online support groups as their main source of “medication.” This is not good because each individual should always seek care from a trained medical professional (Dorman, White 2001).
Now that the pros and cons have been presented; are online social support groups an effective way to provide digital storytelling? In my opinion a complete analysis of this could never be completed because only an individual can tell you if this new technology is helpful. However, Dorman and White have found that these are groups are definitely effective in a positive light. It was “learned that talking with others who were experiencing similar struggles not only provided emotional support and encouragement for the users, but also enabled them to take on the role of helper.” (Shaw as cited Dorman, White, 2001). Although this is one study I have thoroughly examined, I can see how social support groups online are helping to certain people. We removed judgment and created a place in a technological world that many feel safe and welcoming to speak on what may be the hardest topic of their life.
White, M., & Dorman, S. Receiving social support online: implications for health education. Health Education Research, 693-707.
Smith, M. (2010, August 4). Do You Have a Social Media Support Group?. . Retrieved June 16, 2014, from http://www.bloggingbistro.com/do-you-have-a-social-media-support-group/