The power of online engagement for mental health

Posted by Letswalo Marobane on 30 March 2020 6:55 PM SAST

Individuals and families dealing with mental health illness often have a sense of despair and isolation. Over 17 million people in South Africa suffer from a number of mental health illnesses, impacting many more millions across families and communities. Today, however, the exponential emergence of online communities, many levels of support become available.

Online communities are a great source of both mental and emotional support. Whether you are struggling with a mental illness or a physical disorder, seeking out others who understand and face similar obstacles and challenges each day may help you improve. 


Joining an online community provides a safe space that is welcoming and free from judgment, shaming, and guilt that is often found in the outside world. According to (Sadag) South African Depression and Anxiety Group: “1/3 of South Africans suffer from some form of mental illness”.


Online communities offer a number of features that the real world does not, research has found that many of these features are important for people seeking health information and support. One essential feature that the community provides is social cues, which allow users to engage with those whom they would otherwise not do so in the real world. 


Sadag also found that the anonymity of the mental health communities is important, as this increases the self-disclosure of community users. The anonymous nature of the Internet encourages the disinhibition effect, in that, people disclose and reveal more about themselves online than they would in the real world. 


Another important feature is “online counseling support” which has been perceived to be more confidential by young people, with fewer risks. These communities not only provide access to content around issues but also access to people in a similar situation, with no geographical restrictions. It also allows people to offer support, both professional and/or peer support. 


Online communities have the potential to help by reducing the stigma associated with mental health and enable everyone to access services and professionals which they may not in the real world. In general, the communities offer support through professional and peer support, as well as provide a referral to appropriate services.

Source: (Sadag) South African Depression and Anxiety Group

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