James Harris a marketing consultant for WebTribesInc.com, an operator of MySpace-style websites for individuals with mental health concerns. wrote to me about the results of a new survey the company made of its members. Now it’s a small survey of current users, so strictly speaking it may not be too generalizable, but it confirms a lot of other research saying that patients prefer talking to computers rather than humans about sensitive health topics. The survey was made available to 1,600 members of the company’s websites in April 2007. Seventy-eight members, or 5%, responded to the questionnaire. Founded in 2006, WebTribesInc.com now has 8,100 registered members on its four sites. WebTribesInc.com operates four MySpace-type sites: DepressionTribe.com, OCDTribe.com, AnxietyTribe.com and Addiction.Tribe.com. You can see more at the WebTribesInc.com home page. Here’s James’ take:
Can the Internet play a positive role in addressing an individual’s mental health needs? A new survey of members of three popular social networking websites suggests that many bloggers prefer these online communities to seeking professional therapy. WebTribesInc.com recently surveyed members of its sites about their preferences when sharing thoughts and feelings. The survey found that members feel more comfortable discussing their conditions with their online community rather than with a private therapist. In the survey, members were asked "Where do you feel most comfortable expressing your issues?"
The survey found:
–68% said "an online community;"–23% said "my therapist;"–9% said "family and friends;"
According to Ryan Fitzgerald, president of WebTribesInc.com, "Although a number of celebrities including Brooke Shields and Tipper Gore have shared their stories of coping with depression, there is still a very large stigma attached to seeking formal treatment for mental health conditions." Fitzgerald said many of the site members have reported avoiding seeking professional help because they are afraid of being diagnosed as depressed or anxious and are worried the information will be shared with their employer or health insurer. "A safe online mental health community site offers anonymity and sharing in a nonjudgmental atmosphere. Journaling about troubling thoughts and feelings has been shown to be therapeutic. Online communities are also a welcome option for individuals who can’t afford professional treatment or live in remote areas," said Fitzgerald.