Online Social Support: An Effective Means of Mediating Stress

By Cindy Dietrich
2010, Vol. 2 No. 02 | pg. 5/5 |

Social Change Implications

Walden University is committed to social change as a way to improve the social condition for everyone (Walden University, 2009).  For this reason, Walden University has incorporated positive social change into all the work of its community of scholars.  The present research has great capacity to positively contribute to the development of best practices in clinical settings and extend work done in a clinical or face to face support groups.

How the Present Review Promotes Social Change

There are significant social implications for the present research paper.  There are a number of people who spend time on the internet searching for social connections and relationships; evidenced by the sheer number of people participating in social sites, such as Facebook and EHarmony.  Further, not only has the internet been associated with connection, but also with distraction (Venderwerker & Prigerson, 2003).  For a great many populations, surfing the internet passes time, or distracts people from stressful life events, much like television, video games, or movies.  As a result, understanding the phenomenon of social support available online is important for so many.

The internet, as a means to social support, is a cutting edge resource parents may chose to explore, in an effort to develop a support system, as they endure the child’s illness.  With this in mind, it is important that doctors, nurses, social workers, and other clinicians need to be mindful of the quality of the internet parent support groups, in which people are participating.  An additional, important benefit of this avenue of research is that this body of work will inform the community of psychologists and therapists; which may lead to improved services for individuals with health and psychological issues.  Interested parties will benefit from well considered and well designed, comprehensive treatment plans.  There is a significant amount of health information on the internet (Saab et al., 2004).  Some information is not at reliable as other information, which is one concern that medical providers share.  Misinformation can occur, which can mislead many.

Navigating the information, making determinations regarding the value of the information, and understanding how the information applies to individuals are essential to clinicians. It is challenging, but worthy of great efforts.  Developing and monitoring high quality internet resources are necessary.  Further research on all aspects of this innovative type of support for families experiencing serious illness is needed.  This is an area that has just begun to be explored. In light of the fact the internet is here to stay, it is critical to continue Baum’s work and develop research on internet parent support groups.

Summary Comments

Online support groups offer users a safe place to express themselves, share their experiences, gather information, and find support (Sullivan, 2003).  And, Sullivan concluded that many of the users are generally very pleased with their experiences.  Sullivan commented that one difference between face to face groups and online support group is that online, asynchronous groups tend to be self managed, whereas face to face groups are facilitated by a physician or psychologist.  Further, a mix of face to face and online groups may be most beneficial in helping patients cope and heal.

As previously established, there is a rich body of research that was conducted to understand some aspects of online social support.  While several important studies have been conducted to realize the impact of online social groups on individuals, additional research is needed to understand the specific mechanisms that underlie the impact.  In conjunction with the research on wellness, health, and social support, the future for research on internet support groups is expansive.

Implication for Future Research

As remarked, the area of future research on online social support groups is virtually endless.  Some future research will need to understand how online self help groups work to promote a sense of wellbeing among the users.  In addition, research that examines passive participation or “lurking” will be necessary to understand the phenomenon of online support groups more completely.  Consider, there is evidence to suggest that for every one active member of an online support group, there are as many as 20 people reading and watching without participating (Lieberman & Goldstein, 2009).  By conducting further research to understand the lurking experiences and processes more will be of interest to many researchers, and health care providers at minimum.  And through what process do people shift from passive to active participation?  An additional area for future research includes what role maladaptive coping plays in online social support groups.

Other future research ideas include the development of some measurement tools for online social support groups may be valuable (Blum, 2004).  Also, it would be helpful to get a better sense of what people who participate in online support groups that idealize maladaptive behaviors get as a result of their participation.  To effectively plan and implement healthy treatment programs, it is essential that people are participating in online support groups that promote wellness in a way that promotes positive change.  To get a more complete picture of racial and ethnic patterns in online support groups, where social support is the main focus, longitudinal studies with larger samples may be valuable (Fogel et al., 2003).  Finally, one area of research not explored to date is the use of Carepages, and other networking tools that are available to families of patients while at the hospital.

Author's Thoughts

This project has been a great experience.  Prior to working on this paper, I had some idea of the importance of social support and the value of face to face support groups.  However, I had not considered how commonplace online social support groups were.  There are literally thousands of online support groups that serve a wide range of purposes.  It was enlightening.  Also, I appreciated reading the literature, as generally the literature supports the use of online social support.  One of the most interesting articles I read included various technological tools, including cell phones (Vanderwerker & Prigerson, 2003).  I had not considered the impact of cell phones on the development and use of social support during stressful times.

Having seen the positive aspects of online social support networks, I was shocked that there are social support groups that idealize anorexia.  While I think free speech is important, as a parent and future professional psychologist, I was saddened to visit the sites.   One comment resonated with me and I think it typifies the nature of these sites: “i am not saying this to offend................ i have been on this site for 4 years and sometimes i miss the competitions and all the other stuff we get called bad for. i always felt better if i was in it with another girl.” (gottobekiddin, 10 October, 2009).   The struggle is undeniable.  The impact of social support is powerful.


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