Many mental health care providers utilize “peer support”–people with mental illnesses who are trained to help and counsel others.
When studied in face-to-face interactions, this approach proves beneficial, but new research examining online peer support systems did not find the same results.
Researchers monitored 300 people with schizophrenia and found that participating in Internet support groups didn’t have much impact on their overall well-being.
“We actually didn’t find that it was harmful to participants, we didn’t find that it was necessarily beneficial to participants, at least on the measures that were were looking at,” said Mark Salzer, who led the study. Salzer is Chair of the Department of Rehabilitation Sciences at Temple University. He still believes that there is a benefit to online interactions, based on what participants tell him.
“They love it, they say in some cases that it saved their lives, it’s important to them to be in contact with one another etc , so there’s some benefit that people are getting out of it, we’re just not picking it up on the measures that we’re using,” he said.
Salzer says online support groups for mental health issues are relatively new, and more research will be needed to understand how exactly they impact people’s lives and recovery.