Finding Support through Online Communities: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Merely Me Health Guide
  • Hi everyone


    This is one of those posts that I feel compelled to write just to get my thoughts out into the open.  I often find that I gain a clarity by processing events through writing so here goes.


    I have personally been involved with online communities and forums for well over a decade now.  This started when my youngest son was diagnosed with autism.  It was then that I turned to the Internet for help. I joined multiple email groups and forums and tried to settle in with those which were a right fit for me.  I met some incredible people who helped me, a stranger on the Internet, on my journey as a parent of a child with special needs.  In time these people became like family. 

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    There is a deep bond which develops with people who are sharing a similar experience and especially one which is so emotional.  You are with people who "get it" and for whom you don't have to explain things.  They just know. 


    I had the same experience when I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis.  I had a generic blog, not really about any one topic and during the course of blogging I found out I had this disease.  All of a sudden I had all these new blogger friends who also shared this diagnosis.  It was so cathartic to talk about these very personal and difficult challenges with people who had been through this.  In addition to medical treatment I find that such support is essential.  I don't want to go through these things alone.  I want to know that there is someone else out there who has made it through and then I know it is possible for me to make it too. 


    As much as there is good within such communities there is the dark side too.  The Internet has a way of bringing out the worst in some people.  Maybe it is the anonymity.  Maybe it is because our society seems less patient, less civil, and more combative.  But I have seen things on-line that make me ponder whether there is a spectrum of undiagnosed sociopathy going on.  I am not kidding.  The extent to which some people go to cause trouble such as stealing identities, cyber-stalking, on-line bullying and so forth is extremely troubling.  Of course you know my stance on spammers and trolls.  My basic question is where do these people find the time to do these things? 


    Last night I saw both the very best in community behavior and also the very worst.  It was a straight up dichotomy that I could not ignore.  I had to write about it here.


    Yesterday one of our members here on MyDepressionConnection was having a very rough time.  This person was in a whole lot of emotional pain and was reaching out here.  I was extremely concerned for this member and it is during these times when I am desperate to say the right thing.  I sometimes feel a bit helpless because all we have are words here.  And this is where you guys came through and gave such incredible support that I felt humbled.  I got to see the power of community firsthand.  When this member wrote back today after a rough evening I was never so relieved.   It showed me what we can do as a community to help.  And for most of us...we have all been there on that receiving end as well where someone's words whether on a support forum or on a hotline helped pull us through.


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    Just as this scenario was playing out here on MyDepressionConnection, I was also witness to less than desirable community behavior on another site.  Squabbles and disagreements are part of any online community.  It is very common to have differences of opinion and I am always eager for some healthy debate.  But I am always wary of the person who has never been to a particular site before and they may choose an older post and just start up a rant.  Having a difference of opinion about content...this may be the start of a really good discussion.  We can all learn from each other and from our differences.  Yet when it escalates from a difference of opinion to name calling and personal insults, I do have a problem with that.  We aren't going to tolerate people launching personal attacks.  In my mind I always wonder about the motivation to do this sort of thing.  Is it that the person wants attention?  Is it that they love to get a rise out of people?  Do they want to disrupt the community because it gives them a thrill?  I really don't know. 


    I have left some initially wonderful online communities because of such behavior.  Life is stressful enough.  You go to a site for support and you want to feel emotionally safe.  You don't go to be attacked and then have the person defend it as "free speech." I made a vow long ago that if I was ever in the position to make a difference within an online community, that I would never allow things to disintegrate into chaos and bullying. If I see it I will say something and I will take action.


    I want to commend you all for making this community such a safe and welcoming place for people who want support.  There is a power in words to heal, comfort, and provide relief.  Yet words can also maim, harm and ultimately cause destruction.  I saw instances of both last night and it was emotionally overwhelming.  Maybe I am a romantic at heart but I do believe that good triumphs over the bad stuff.  You are the good I wish to focus upon. Each time I come here I feel that I always get back so much more than I give.  I feel very grateful and fortunate to be a part of this community.


    Thank you to all our members.  Your kindness, compassion, and support are so very appreciated.




Published On: May 18, 2011