In a previous research work it was found that people with mental illness prefer online peer support groups rather than face to face support groups. However clinical effectiveness of these support groups was limited and findings are mixed.
Mark Salzer of Temple University and colleagues studied the well being of 300 participants with severe mental illnesses, including schizophrenia-spectrum, who were assigned to an email list-serv, a bulletin board online community, or a control group.
After a year, the researchers found participating in online peer support groups did not have much impact on their overall well-being from a statistical standpoint.
However, Salzer found evidence that the participants who were assigned to the online peer support groups felt the groups were relevant, supportive, and beneficial.
"These groups likely provide some degree of comfort in sharing a similar experience. While we can't yet quantify the benefit with our measurements, it does appear that participants benefit in online contacts with one another," said Salzer.
He said that the lack of statistical evidence for the effectiveness of these groups should not deter doctors from allowing their patients to use them.
"If anything, clinicians should become more familiar with online groups because of their prevalence. They should be discussing their use with clients, and talking about ways to safely navigate online resources to get the maximum benefit," he added.
The study has been published in Social Science and Medicine.