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Soc Sci Med. 2011 Jan;72(1):54-62. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2010.09.037. Epub 2010 Oct 26.

Internet peer support for individuals with psychiatric disabilities: A randomized controlled trial.

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  • 1Temple University, PA 19122, USA.


Despite the prevalence of Internet support groups for individuals with mental illnesses little is known about the potential benefits, or harm, of participating in such groups. Therefore, this randomized controlled trial sought to determine the impact of unmoderated, unstructured Internet peer support, similar to what is naturally occurring on the Internet, on the well-being of individuals with psychiatric disabilities. Three hundred individuals resident in the USA diagnosed with a Schizophrenia Spectrum or an Affective Disorder were randomized into one of three conditions: experimental Internet peer support via a listserv, experimental Internet peer support via a bulletin board, or a control condition. Three measurement time points, baseline, 4- and 12 months post-baseline, assessed well-being by examining measures of recovery, quality of life, empowerment, social support, and distress. Time × group interactions in the repeated measures ANOVA showed no differences between conditions on the main outcomes. Post-hoc repeated measures ANOVAs found that those individuals who participated more in Internet peer support reported higher levels of distress than those with less or no participation (p = 0.03). Those who reported more positive experiences with the Internet peer support group also reported higher levels of psychological distress than those reporting less positive experiences (p = 0.01). Study results therefore do not support the hypothesis that participation in an unmoderated, unstructured Internet listserv or bulletin board peer support group for individuals with psychiatric disabilities enhances well-being. Counterintuitive findings demonstrating those who report more positive experiences also experienced higher levels of distress are discussed but we also point to the need for additional research. Future research should explore the various structures, formats, and interventions of Internet support, as well as the content and quality of interactions. Knowledge generated from such research can help to inform policies and guidelines for safely navigating online resources and supports to gain maximum benefit.

Copyright © 2010 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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