Finding Depression Support Online
People crave community. They will create a community around a shared hobby, like sewing or model railroads, or around something more weighty such as the struggle against an addiction. Online communities in particular fill a need for people who don't have the time to get together in person or perhaps are not geographically near enough like-minded people.
Although I am myself an introvert, I accidentally created one of the most successful depression communities online, exactly ten years ago. In the summer of 1998, I was trying to figure out how to handle all the emails I was receiving through my depression website, Wing of Madness, WoM for short. A completely unexpected consequence of creating it three years prior was being contacted by people visiting the site. I had put my email address up so that anyone who found an error or omission in my articles could contact me, but that was rarely the reason that people emailed me.
In some cases the emails were merely looking for information. In many more, I felt they simply wanted to connect to someone else who understood how they felt. Most of the depression sites on the Internet in 1995 were sponsored by medical organizations. A site created by a real person who had depression was more inviting to people who wanted to talk to someone about depression on another level; different than one they could have with their doctor.
I was a visitor to many computer gaming message boards on CompuServe and America Online, where I had fun discussing games with other members and sharing tips. It occurred to me that the message board format would allow all these people who were contacting me to contact each other, to share stories, commiserate and compare experiences with medication and other forms of treatment.
In August of 1998 I put up an announcement on the website, stating that I was planning to open a message board for people with depression in the near future. I posted a form on the site that would allow interested visitors to leave their email address to be notified when the message board was open. When I had 200 names, I opened up the board I had created for free on Delphi Forums, and emailed the announcement.
During the first couple of weeks, I had to post a lot of messages to keep the conversation going, but since then the board has rarely been quiet. I added a chat room a couple of months after the opening for people who wanted a more immediate connection than a message board.
Since then, WoM, as it was christened by members, has had thousands of members and hundreds of thousands of message board posts. As a community, it's taken on a life of its own. The members have taken ownership of the forum in ways I never even dreamed of. Members have set up in-person meets. Someone even put together a WoM fantasy football team!
I confess that one reason I initially opened the board was to cut down on the amount of email I was answering. If I had known that running an online forum would be much more time-consuming, not to mention stressful, than answering emails, I probably wouldn't have started it up. But I'm glad I didn't know that, as it's been one of the most fulfilling things I've ever done with my life.