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David Baxter

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Mental health patients commonly use internet as source of information

The internet appears to be playing a significant role for people seeking information on mental health, UK investigators have discovered.

John Powell (University of Warwick, Coventry) and Aileen Clarke (Barts and The London, Queen Mary's School of Medicine and Dentistry) found that more than one in 10 people in the general population and more than one in five people with a history of mental health problems have used the internet as a source of information on mental health issues.

"The privacy and anonymity of the internet gives particular advantages for people with mental health problems for whom widespread stigma can sometimes inhibit help-seeking through more traditional routes," Powell told MedWire News.

The researchers carried out a general population survey including questions regarding internet use, past psychiatric history, and the 12-item General Health Questionnaire.

Among the 917 respondents, 58.8% reported ever having used the internet, particularly those aged 45 years and younger and with higher levels of education.

In all, 37.4% of respondents had used the internet for general health information, representing 63.3% of those who had ever used the internet. Around 10% had used the internet to find information on mental health, of whom 15.1% had some current psychological problems, while 20.5% had a past history of mental health problems.

The researchers note in the British Journal of Psychiatry that 24% of participants, with or without mental health problems, rated the internet as one of the top three sources that they would use, but only 12.1% selected it as one of the top three most accurate sources.

"The internet is therefore playing an increasingly significant role in helping people with mental health problems, although it seems to be used more than it is trusted," said Powell.

He pointed out that, for people with mental health problems, obtaining valuable peer-to-peer information through interactions in virtual communities and through the online provision of personal accounts of illness is likely to see future expansion.

In addition, "by examining the role of the internet in meeting information needs, psychiatric services and practitioners could harness the internet as a tool to educate and support patients," Powell notes.

"This research tells us that the internet is an increasingly important source of help for people with mental health problems," he concluded.

"The next stage is to understand better how individuals actually use the internet, what they do with the information they find, and how online help-seeking related to other help-seeking behavior."

Source: Br J Psychiatry 2006; 189: 273-277
 

ThatLady

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I'd definitely like to see more comprehensive research done in this area. It does seem to me that the anonymity of the internet would ease the fears of many people about revealing their "inner souls". They don't have to be in the physical company of the person they're talking to, with all the trepidation that closeness brings.

It will be, for me, most interesting to watch as this research develops further. :)
 

Danny Boy

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Sep 4, 2006
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The internet is chock full of information, personally I search the internet before going to the library. All this information at our fingertips is probably the best thing that's happened to education since libraries came about.

On another note; be careful where you're getting your information from. There are malicous people out there whom will provide false information on purpose. I personally give more "weight" to information coming from .edu domains.
 

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