It is common for people to go to Internet groups to ask members if they have a particular mental illness. Yes, it’s a bit like going to a restaurant and asking people if you are hungry, but that’s what happens every day.
Those who choose to go to chat rooms and other Internet forums to get opinions about their intimate psychological problems forget, or forgo, the inherent nature of Internet groups that make questions and comments available to all and retain the information for eternity.
Here is some of what I’ve learned.
First, there are thousands of groups on every mental health subject imaginable.
Even though most groups screen potential members, it is easy to get past the initial queries of the group owner that are posed of new members. There is usually no way to ascertain who owns the group, who is actually in the group, their age, life experiences, what country they live in, their real identity, or what their motives are for being a member. Yet vulnerable people go to these groups seeking information and help perhaps thinking that accurate information and empathy will ensue.
Participants of Internet groups hide behind masks of anonymity most of the time – that is what makes the Internet an easy way to speak your mind or ask for help regarding private psychological matters. These groups readily create an illusion of immediate intimacy and trust. This points to potential danger, yet this knowledge does not deter people from seeking information, help, and validation of their experiences. There is no way to determine who the members are, yet people come to groups in a vulnerable state searching for answers to very intimate questions and situations they are struggling with.
Before choosing to join one of the thousands of Yahoo! groups addressing psychological issues there is a description of the group. And you can also see how many members there are. It is easy to think that a group with a lot of members must be a good one, but is that a correct assumption?
There is also a chart showing how many comments were posted in a given month since the inception of the group. This information will let you know how active the participants are and how the group has grown, or dwindled, over the previous months and years. This information can be used as a deciding factor as to whether or not to join. It is easy to determine if the group is small and intimate, large, or inactive. If the number has say, 4,110 comments last month is it better than one that posts 330 comments?
What the statistics of a group do not tell you is how many people are actually participating in conversations. The group with 4,110 comments could be between 5 people, but you will not know that until you are accepted as a member and hang out for awhile. If a group has 400 members and only 5 comment furiously between each other, that means that 395 people are either not participating or are “lurking” – that is reading but not commenting.
When a new person enters a group the established members encourage the newbie to delve deeper into their feelings and experiences. The advise that ensues is easy to mistake for genuine caring and concern even though this may be the intent of some members.
The bottom line? Beware. Go to real people. Internet groups have the potential to say: Yes, you have a mental illness cause you sound just like me! Welcome.
How to Evaluate an Internet Group or Forum Before Joining by Jeanette Bartha is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at www.mentalhealthmatters2.wordpress.com.
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