Previously we introduced the concept of social support and presented an exercise and tips on how to improve the level of social support you receive from those closest to you.  Another important way of maximizing the social support in your life is by seeking out new forms of social support.  There are several ways to meet new people and make new connections, but this week we will focus on a medium that allows you to do this from the comfort of your own home – that medium is technology.  Specifically today’s blog focuses on internet usage; in a future blog we will turn our attention to the use of mobile phones.

We live in a world dominated by technological advances; tools that are becoming ever smarter and smaller.  Most of us already use these devices for work, leisure, and to maintain our social relationships.  For example, Statistics Canada reports that in 2009 75% of Canadians over the age of 16 used the internet at least once a day, a rate that has been increasing over time and is highest in the younger age groups.  Of particular importance, nearly 70% of adults using the internet at home said they did so ‘searching for medical or health related information. Clearly a large majority of Canadians are already using the internet as a means of learning about, and managing, their health.

However, the internet is not only a source of information and knowledge, but it is also an amazing resource for social support.  You’ve probably heard of social networking sites (SNS) like Facebook, MySpace, and LinkedIn that allow people to connect and share stories, pictures etc…  In a recent Pew Internet survey1, 47% of American adults (and 59% of adults using the internet) had used at least one SNS in 2010 – a rate that has nearly doubled since 2008.  This survey also reported that Facebook was by far the most popular of the SNS sites with 92% of SNS users on Facebook.  Of particular interest, internet users had higher levels of social support (including total support, companionship and instrumental support), with the greatest gains seen in those using Facebook.  It appears that the internet is substantially enriching people’s social lives in a measurable way.

Another important resource available through the internet is that of support groups or forums.  Typically these support groups/forums revolve around a specific health problem (or cluster of related diseases) so that people struggling with similar issues have a place to discuss ideas, tips and solutions specific to their needs.  They are usually segmented into sections such as “my story”, “diet advice”, “medications” etc… so you can quickly and easily find information about a certain topic that interests you.  These are excellent sources of both anecdotal information and published studies, but they are also significant wells of emotional support.  If you are dealing with a health issue, I highly recommend spending a few minutes searching online for a related forum.  I clearly remember the first time I found a forum on the illness I was dealing with, and how much it changed my life for the better.

References:

  1. Hampton KN, Goulet LS, Rainie L, Purcell K.  Social Networking Sites and Our Lives: How people’s trust, personal relationships, and civic and political involvement are connected to their use of social networking sites and other technologies.  Pew Internet & American Life Project, June 16, 2011, http://pewinternet.org/Reports/2011/Technology-and-social-networks.aspx, accessed on Oct. 21, 2012.