Research — 22 October 2014

People with severe mental health issues are willing to go online and share stories to provide support for others with similar conditions.

Researchers found people with schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, or bipolar disorder are comfortable using a social media website like YouTube to provide and receive naturally occurring peer support.

“What we found most surprising about our findings was that people with severe mental illness were so open about their illness experiences on a public social media website like YouTube,” said lead author John Naslund, a Ph.D. student at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy & Clinical Practice.

“We saw that people with severe mental illness did not appear to be concerned about the risks of openly sharing their personal illness experiences because they really wanted to help others with similar mental health problems.”

The study is published in the journal PLOS ONE.iphone-4-381203_1280

Naslund and colleagues found that people with severe mental illness used YouTube to feel less alone and to find hope, to support and to defend each other, and to share personal stories and strategies for coping with day-to-day challenges.

They also sought to learn from the experiences of others about using medications and seeking mental health care.

“It helps them to overcome fears associated with living with mental illness, and it also creates a sense of community among these individuals,” the researchers said.

Severe mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder and bipolar disorder are among the leading causes of disability worldwide and are associated with a great deal of stigma and discrimination.

For the study, researchers used a method called online ethnography to analyze over three thousand comments posted to 19 videos.

The comments were uploaded by individuals who self-identified as having schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, or bipolar disorder.

Investigators then used qualitative methods to analyze the comments and find common themes in the data.

“What is also important is that our findings are consistent with how peer support is viewed in mental health research and practice, which suggests that YouTube or other social media websites might help to extend the reach of informal peer support activities between people with severe mental illness,” Naslund said.

Investigators concede limitations to the study, as the findings were observational and exploratory.

This article first appeared on ‘Psych Central’ on 20 October 2014.


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