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User experiences of online community support for mental ill health

Heyes, Kim (2018) User experiences of online community support for mental ill health. Doctoral thesis (PhD), Manchester Metropolitan University.

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Abstract

This doctoral study explores the use of online user-led community support forums for people with diagnosed and self-diagnosed mental ill health. The study is a qualitative analysis of three online forums and four semi-structured interviews incorporating twenty-nine participants. There is a lack of research into online communities using multiple methods, and my study uses two methods, virtual ethnography and semi-structured interviews, to ensure that there is a breadth and diversity to the research, allowing participants to choose different ways to participate. The thesis is framed within the context of austerity measures in the United Kingdom, and cuts in funding for many aspects of mental health social care. Negative attitudes to mental health issues by members of society and policymakers can lead to an increase in people isolated through lack of formal service support. The study explores the use of a particular form of support, online community support forums, an area that is currently experiencing a growth in research. My original contribution to knowledge is that peer-to-peer online communities enable people to construct their own mental health narrative by combining the lived experience of others with their own experience. By doing so, people can escape the social labelling, the stigma, and recreate a sense of self out of, or detached from, the medical and social discourses. This study highlighted how online forums can restore sociality and how online communities help people to clarify their own mental health narrative. As such, online forums and communities contribute to and are a new aspect of the health pathway. This research therefore, helps to inform gaps in health pathways, so that more suitable, cost-effective online resources can be created to reduce the effects of mental illness and support those who are unable to find support elsewhere.

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