I didn’t know that online support was so popular to treat mental Health issues… Why is that??

According to a new study, 75% of the 16 to 34 years old prefer looking for online support for a mental health issue rather than reaching out to their family, friends or a doctor. I am surprised, since all treatments are confidential, I would have thought that a doctor or a therapist would have been first choice. Any thoughts?

Super User Asked on November 11, 2018 in Mental Health.
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10 Answer(s)

It’s true, most people are more comfortable getting help online but I think it makes sense. When it comes to medical information, esp. Mental well being, everyone wants information about them kept strictly under lock and key, and rather than trust someone to do this for them, they’d rather protect the information right from the start by protecting their own identity. I mean, how confidential is medical information that lacks a patient’s name (or at least a real name)? I think this happens these days because online support gives them all the benefits of professional counsel with added benefits as:

  1. Someone doesn’t have to disclose who exactly they are. It doesn’t matter what my names are or where I reside provided I’ve shared with you (the doctor) what my ailments are and you’ve advised me best.
  2. It also makes it cheaper and normally free of charge. If someone had to walk into a doctor’s office, a lot of expenses would be covered including – the patient’s transport, consultation fees, and other inconveniences.
  3. Convenient, reliable and less time consuming. What someone has to do is sit at their computer and chat for 10 minutes, and its done. If there’s a queue, they can leave their inquiry and get to other stuff, receive their response later, thereby efficiently using their time.
  4. Confidential information is rendered useless to anyone who would hack it. The largest percentage of people seeking online help do not always disclose their actual personal data, and honestly, why should they?
  5. There’s no stigma (or at least it wouldn’t matter), and this also gives someone freedom to freely express themselves the way they want and describe their ailments to the deepest possible level – not everyone is transparent and confident enough to open-up about some private illnesses,  even before the doctor, so online help – where your identity is protected, comes in for rescue.

I think overall, it’s actually a good idea, with only one downside, fake doctors. If there’s something of this kind, then online medical support could be crowded with doctors who lack both experience and knowledge or even qualification to guide and prescribe actual medication to a patient, and this alone can ruin everything; leaving one question behind – How best can one spot the right physician online to ensure their are not conned?

Regular User Answered on November 12, 2018.
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I have a friend who always does this (but we all do research perhaps before we see a real doctor), and he says, it’s easier for him to speak to a doctor behind a chat window than physically. I think however that most people do this because very few people truly prioritize their health, and health management (Esp. mental health) can really be expensive to a number of people. For purposes of convenience and affordability, most people would rather take a quick online help route.

Regular User Answered on November 12, 2018.
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Fred, thanks for the positive attitude, but honestly, I call this gambling with your health. What are the odds that among the online support doctors, you’ll find someone who’s truly professional and knows what they are doing? Agreed, there are nice writings done by professionals online like Mayo clinic, Webmd, etc, but for medical purposes most people will seek a local online doctor who understands their indigenous mental ailments, and good ones among these are very few. Chances are high, one will fall a victim of fraud. Sometimes with much convenience and affordability comes a greater price to pay.

Regular User Answered on November 12, 2018.
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Okay guys, one point I got to ask, from Olivier’s question and Fred’s response (Which seem to disagree on the part of confidentiality), where exactly is confidential information more secure: Online Support, or Doctor’s office?

Regular User Answered on November 12, 2018.
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Thanks for the answers everyone. Megan I think they both present true distinct arguments, and how secure the information would be entirely depends on the patient. If the patient is not guarded enough about who they really are, then their data is much less secure online than that which is recorded in the doctor’s office or hospital. But if the patient is a savvy person who knows how the internet works, how information flows, then he or she can share information over a VPN connection in a manner that will never lead back to them no matter who access the information eventually. 

So overall (as not many actually know how information flows online), then online support is not that confidential, but even then, not many people care, because its not like medical information is a treasure merchandise, (save for specific public icons), so as as long as someone gets what they need, conveniently and cheaply, most will not care about confidentiality issues.  The only actual issue I foresee is authenticity of online physicians, and as Fred inquired, how can someone know the right person to approach?

Regular User Answered on November 12, 2018.
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Thanks guys for the answers, though I think it still comes down to how much someone values their health, and perhaps how much they know about online information flow. Because despite the facts everyone has pointed out, the issue remains as asked by Olivier, the largest percentage by far prefers online mental health support (or at least most of them do this) rather than going to the hospital. In most countries and cities, people are forced to make do with what they have and such decisions are dictated by, how much someone can afford at the time to seek medical help, how  convenient they are willing to go, and how much they care about whether their medical data is misused or not. But overall, the solid advantages of seeking mental health support in a hospital outweigh online support services.

Moderator Answered on November 13, 2018.
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Good question Megan. As you all know, there is nothing secure online and certainly not with online support. If you try to keep your patient information confidential, don’t expose yourself online. You know very well that everybody is watching everybody! Why do you think Mark Zuckerberg and millions of others are putting tape on their phone and computer cameras at all time ? Don’t you think they know something we don’t ? I know, it is more comfortable and more pleasant to do everything online including mental health treatment where you don’t have to move from your couch or face a doctor. It is for sure easier to face a screen but the end result after a hacking or use of your data is not the result you were looking for. Confidentiality and online don’t go well together. Every single organization (medical or not) is under constant assault from hackers. It happens on a daily basis. And what we hear in the news is only the tip of the iceberg. Regarding  confidential information, I would choose the doctor’s office over online support any day of the week…

Super User Answered on November 13, 2018.
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I am with you on this. Confidentiality is important but also authenticity and qualification of the medical personnel I speak to is critical to my health, No to such a huge risk!

Regular User Answered on November 13, 2018.
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I respect everyone’s opinion on this matter and thanks for sharing them! I for one I’ve never used online medical support esp. for mental health, but I can understand why many people do it. And that’s what I was trying to explain. But you’re all right when you say its less secure and certainly less authentic. Health must be prioritised. I appreciate everyone’s point of view.

Regular User Answered on November 20, 2018.
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In my opinion, online support can be used for many different purposes for addiction.  In agreement with Fred,  addicts reach out to keep their identity anonymous.  Most are possibly ashamed to be seen for the questions they have, or those that need a quick fix because their other resources may be limited.

Regular User Answered on December 6, 2018.
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