Mental and physical health problems can be confusing and isolating experiences. We don’t always know anyone else who has been through anything similar. We might feel bad about ‘burdening’ friends and family with our questions and worries.
Charities and support organisations are increasingly recognising the importance of online peer support – smaller, managed communities that come together around a particular issue or experience. When managed and moderated well, these communities can be safe and non-judgemental spaces to ask questions, give support and share stories.
Online Peer Support Connects Those Who’ve Been There
Everyone needs to share stories, to be accepted and understood – especially if you’re going through or recovering from illness. But friends and family don’t always know exactly what an illness is or what it feels like. And there may not be anyone living near you who has been there. Some people may be scared to speak about their experience for fear of stigma and misunderstanding. Online communities connect people up with others who know just what they are experiencing. The chances of finding that offline are much smaller.
Googling symptoms or diagnoses can be terrifying. Media stories and opinions may make it less likely that someone will feel able to seek help. Community members and moderators can provide a warm signpost to trusted, useful information and take time to answer any questions and help people overcome barriers to finding further support.
There Whenever It’s Needed
Unfortunately, a need for comfort, support and answers is not confined to hospital admissions, medical appointments and therapy sessions. Many communities are open 24-hours and provide that consistent thread of care through illness, recovery and beyond.
Recovery can take a long time. You may need support long after things have returned to ‘normal’. People around you may think you’re totally recovered. You may not want to admit you’re still finding things hard. Online support services are there for as long as people need them. And many people find that they can create something positive from their experience by using it to help others.
You may have times when you feel hopeless, unable to envisage a future where things will be different. Community members who have recovered are proof that people can get better. As well as reassurance, comfort and companionship they provide hope.