Posted on Sep 28, 2023, 5 p.m.
A strong sense of community can do wonders for your mental health and wellbeing. Feeling supported by your family and friends can improve your resilience and strengthen your social connections, too. However, many patients and caregivers may find it difficult to connect with their local community.
If you’re a caregiver, you may struggle to find time to meet up with people in your neighborhood and would likely prefer to spend your free time focused on some “me time.” Similarly, if you require full-time care, you may find it challenging to get involved with community causes due to a lack of mobility or independence.
Fortunately, online communities can offer a similar form of support. Digital communities, like those found on blogs and social sites, can give you a sense of belonging and help you connect with like-minded people. This is particularly powerful today, as more of us now work remotely.
The Power of Online Communities
As a patient or caregiver, you may be skeptical of digital communities. This is understandable, as virtual relationships are a relatively new phenomenon to most. However, recent research shows that online communities can be deeply empowering.
A systematic review published in 2021 found that patients who use the web to learn more about “health conditions, guidance in treatment, and [find] support from peers online” feel more empowered than those who do not use the web. Researchers concluded that online communities could be a “complement to traditional health care,” and that more providers should make use of digital forums.
Online health communities can empower caregivers, too. Reliable online sources give you access to community insights and can serve as a sounding board for treatment ideas. You may also find other caregivers who encounter similar struggles to you. This can help you feel reassured during a low point or refresh your mindset after a busy day at work.
When leveraged correctly, online communities can become a catalyst for change. Folks who feel disenfranchised can get together with other people online and call for better care or working conditions. This is particularly important today when many feel that the care they’re given fails to meet the minimum standards.
Social Media Communities
Social media provides the perfect platform for patients and caregivers alike. Most social sites are entirely free and some have moderators who keep participants safe. However, if you’re new to digital platforms, you may struggle to find folks who are in the same boat as you.
If you’re using a social site like Instagram, you should be able to find your community using hashtags. Instagram hashtags are designed to help folks find a range of similar posts based on the caption provided. If you’re struggling to find a community, you may need to start one yourself! Consider using a series of branded hashtags that encapsulate your content and community. This will gain traction over time, as more users will start to use your hashtag.
You can also use sites like Facebook and Reddit to find digital communities. Medical subreddits are usually heavily moderated, too, meaning that all comments and posts must meet the subreddit’s particular rules or be removed. Moderation is particularly important if you wish to discuss a sensitive topic, as online trolls abound on social sites.
When interacting with folks on digital forums, be careful about giving out personal information. Unfortunately, scammers do lurk on social sites and prey on vulnerable people. You can firm up your digital security by using AI-led cybersecurity programs that automatically detect threats and notify you when a potential breach is happening.
Blogs and Digital Forums
Social sites give you access to large communities. However, you may find it difficult to speak openly and honestly on public platforms. This is understandable, as talking about the challenges you face can elicit feelings of embarrassment or shame — particularly if the folks you talk to don’t share your condition or career.
If you want to strengthen your ties to online communities, consider looking for blogs and digital forums that exist behind a membership wall. You may have to pay for membership, but site moderators will usually take steps to ensure that you are who you say you are.
After joining a new forum or blog, consider writing up an introductory post. If you feel comfortable, share your name and a few facts about yourself. Focus on non-identifiable tidbits about your hobbies or interests, as this will generate the most conversation and keep you safe.
When commenting on other people’s posts, be sure to bring a positive, understanding approach. It’s easy to respond with frustration when you disagree with someone on the web, but lashing out will only weaken your community bonds. Instead, take a deep breath and try to understand the other person’s perspective — sometimes you just have to agree to disagree!
Online communities can be a powerful tool in your arsenal as a patient or caregiver. Connecting with folks online can help you overcome social isolation and give you a space to share your experiences in safety. Regularly engaging with social platforms can be motivating, too — joggers report running faster when they post their results to Facebook! When searching for a community, focus on moderated pages as these tend to yield the highest quality conversations.
This article was written for WHN by Charlie Fletcher who is a freelance writer from the lovely “city of trees”- Boise, Idaho. Her love of writing pairs with her passion for social activism and her search for the truth. You can find more of her writing on her Contently.
As with anything you read on the internet, this article should not be construed as medical advice; please talk to your doctor or primary care provider before changing your wellness routine. This article is not intended to provide a medical diagnosis, recommendation, treatment, or endorsement.
Opinion Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy of WHN/A4M. Any content provided by guest authors is of their own opinion and is not intended to malign any religion, ethic group, club, organization, company, individual, or anyone or anything.
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