Answering Questions on Health Central's My Depression Connection
Just wanted to give a shout out to our community about helping other members by answering questions on our site.
On MyDepressionConnection we have a Questions and Answers component to the site where anyone can ask a question and anyone can answer.
I would encourage you all to use this part of the site as a way to get feedback on a problem or to get answers to questions you have about depression. We sometimes receive upwards of 200 questions or more in a good month and so it can be challenging to get all of these questions answered. This is a situation where we are greatly relying upon you, the community, to reach out and help other members. Sometimes the best answers come from people who have been in a similar situation and can provide the empathy and hard earned wisdom to give advice.
Please do reach out to your community here in both giving and receiving support.
Making comments on other member's posts as well as answering questions can help you in making you feel like you are part of something bigger than yourself. Knowing that you helped someone can give you a feeling of meaning and purposefulness. It is also a great way to bond and connect with others. Your experience is of great value and especially to others who are struggling. So don't hesitate to reach out. Your words may be just the thing someone needs to hear today.
For those who are interested in answering questions here on MyDepressionConnection, here are some guidelines to help you:
1. Do not give medical advice
Nobody here is a medical doctor or a pharmacist. However, we do receive a lot of questions about medications. These questions are somewhat difficult to answer because nobody here is qualified to give medical advice. Even if the person answering is a medical professional, it would be unethical to provide a diagnosis, tell people what they should or should not take with regard to medications, or act as an authority concerning someone's treatment. Giving medical advice also violates Health Central's terms of service. This is why we sometimes overstate the obvious: You have to see your doctor or therapist to get their expert medical opinion.
2. Talk about your own experience
It is always a good idea to discuss your own experience regarding the topic of the question. If you have experience, for example, taking a particular medication you can feel free to talk about that in your answer. But always preface this by saying, "This was my personal experience" and/or "What worked for me may not work for anyone else." Sometimes people feel strongly about their experiences, as in maybe you had a bad reaction to taking a particular medication. But this doesn't mean that this medication will be harmful to others. You have to know when to separate your experience from making predictions for other people.
3. Provide facts where they are needed
If you are going to make statements about the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of a particular medication, for example, you need to back up your claim with some sort of facts. Ciiting a research study or information from a news report is extremely helpful.
4. Let people know your opinion
If you are stating your opinion let people know that this is your opinion and not a fact. A preface such as, "This is my opinion based upon my personal experience..." can be helpful to members to understand that what you are saying is not an authoritative declaration but simply how you feel about the topic.
5. It is okay to say, "I don't know."
There are many questions which cannot be answered by anyone else but the person asking the question. In these cases it is reasonable to tell the person that this decision or choice is up to them. We don't have the answers but we can help the person make the decision on their own by providing information and resources.
6. Provide resources when necessary
In a lot of cases the person asking a question will ask something which is out of our realm of experience. In these cases it is wise to give resources or links for the person to conduct their own search. For example if someone asks about heart disease we would direct them to Health Central's heart disease site. If someone is needing local support for their depression a link to the National Alliance for Mental Illness or NAMI may be beneficial. You can also direct the person to read any of our informational articles on depression including Member Medication Reviews if they are asking about medications. You can also give links to something you wrote on MyDepressionConnection if you feel it may help answer the person's question.
7. Validate the concern and provide empathy
I have found over the years of answering member questions that most people can solve their own issues and find their own answers. In some cases the person already knows the answer. Many times what the person most wants is for someone to validate their concern that it is something important. They also want empathy and a virtual hand to hold when they are going through a rough time. They might want a friend to say, "Hey, I have been through this too. It was really hard but I got through it and you can too." We cannot and should not provide therapy here. But we can give peer support. I feel that this is the greatest strength to our community and I hope this is what keeps bringing you back to us.
The bottom line:
When someone asks a question, the best thing you can do in giving an answer is to give information, resources, as well as your own personal experience if it applies and allow the person to answer their own question. Give them the tools and they do the work in making their own decision. Some questions are best answered by a medical professional and it is best to say this outright.
Thanks to everyone who is active on our site. I hope this post helps you to feel more at ease in answering questions if you decide that this is a good way to become more involved with our community. As they say...it takes a village. We can't do it without you!