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Your Patients are already online… but where?

online-communities

How Mental Health Patients are using Online Communities and Social Networks.

I arrived in the mental health community by way of marketing for a local clinic.  I spent the 6 years prior to that living, breathing and marketing all things “web.”   As a result, I have worked with a wide variety of “communities,” but never one quite like that of mental health.

The biggest difference?  Mental health patients are online: on every platform and  in every network.  They are growing and sharing at such a rate that most mental health providers cannot keep up.  We have a truly organic use of social media. People are reaching out to others that understand them, get them.  Patients are seeking help online. Most of the time, they are  receiving this help from untrained, yet highly experienced sources: other patients.

To call a “patient” experienced can cause some ears to twitch.   Although I will never say that these communities are more knowledgeable than a professional (with years of education, practice and training), I do believe there is a benefit to these groups.  The interactions that occur online are very different than what occurs in an office, a group, or even among friends.

Where are these mental health communities?

The answer is simple:  everywhere and anywhere.

We see facebook groups which function as support groups.

We see tweets about mental illness (144 characters at a time) and even more people following.  Reddit has depression, adhd and alcoholism boards (with THOUSANDS of  active members).

On Tumblr there are thousands of wellness blogs, and just as many self harm, anorexia, and depression blogs.   This even drove us to create a HealthShire Tumblr.

Google+ even has some groups forming around advocacy and information.  Feel free to follow HealthShire on Google+

What are these patients DOING on these sites?

The simple answer is talking and interacting.  Each site seems to have developed differently.  Tumblr and Pinterest are primarily used for self-expression.  We wrote a blog post recently about depression quotes, a common occurrence on these sites.  Other sites like blogger, blogspot and wordpress tend to have a lot of mental health journals, a place where patients can document their lives as they relate to mental health.

Reddit has been one of the more interesting communities I have seen.  The various subreddits have turned into research groups, support groups, and just a place to relate.  It is not uncommon to see someone ask questions such as “I just started Ritalin. What should I expect?”  These sorts of questions are often met with a variety of answers, all by fellow patients.

How do Providers fit into this?

In my experience working within our clinic, providers are hesitant to jump into online interaction.  This is for a variety of reasons ranging from lack of financial reward (you’re not billing a session to answer a question on reddit).  Another concern is potential HIPAA violations, which can potentially be blown out of proportion.  If you are careful online (and offline), you won’t be violating anything (especially since these are not your patients).  Lastly, liability is playing a huge role in hindering providers from entering this space.  Professionals have a higher level of liability than a random patient.

With all these reasons to be concerned with social media involvement, I understand why providers are scared.  However, those who are entering the space are helping both themselves and the mental health community.   The community needs educated professionals who are willing to weigh in and join the conversation.  In addition, the more involved a provider is, the more they build their value as a brand and a specialist.

Those who are willing to take the time to engage the mental health population online are doing a great thing.  So jump on in!

Update: This article has also been posted on Julian Sutter’s Website

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