Illness Connections on the Internet: An Exploration
People with stigmatized health conditions, like mental illness tend to avoid seeking treatment or discussing the problem, however, with the anonymity of the Internet, patients can gather information about their illnesses and communicate with others through discussion groups, chat rooms and online forums. This paper is an exploration of online support communities for people with Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD). Reactive attachment disorder (RAD) is a relatively uncommon mental illness in which the relationship between infants or young children and their primary caregiver is disrupted (Hanson 2000). The disorder was included in DSM-III (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) in 1980 (American Psychiatric Association 1980). In order to explore how the RAD community experiences their illness, I Google searched for different online support forums. The information comes from the three forums, (1) RAD Forum on Psychforums.com, which is a message board that allows for open discussion, (2) RAD Kids Support Forums on MDJunction.com, which is a community for patients, family members and friends who are concerned about RAD, and (3) RAD forum on About.com, which is a place to discuss RAD and connect with others who are also struggling with the disorder. These RAD forums provide the safe virtual environments for people to share information and their personal stories about RAD. My findings suggest that people with RAD have concerns about diagnosis, different treatment options and coping strategies, as well as the need for support. The three forums share similar characteristics in the usage of participants: low number of posts and replies and infrequent visits. Participants include people who were diagnosed with RAD, their parents, friends and partners. For children who were diagnosed with RAD, their parents usually are the ones who posted messages on the forums. As for adult patients with RAD, they usually posted messages to share their own stories. Sometimes, friends or partners of the patients may post messages on the forum to ask questions about what help they can offer. In general, most of the participants posted only 1 to 2 messages and seldom replied to other posts. Participants may reply one day after it was posted, but more often, replies were posted a month later or even half year later after the messages were posted. This indicates that people are not constantly checking the forum and they tend to post messages or reply when they have their own concerns. Because RAD is a relatively uncommon disorder, there are not many posts on these forums and participants do not usually log on to the forums very often. While participants can be patients, their families, friends or partners, the types of discussions or information exchanged on the forum vary and depend on the roles of participants. For most of the time, people post on the forum to share their stories and talk about their experiences with RAD. However, the way how people present their stories can be very different, depending on their roles. Patients with RAD tend to be focused more on talking about their feelings when experiencing the disorder, while their families, friends or partners are focused more on describing the facts and the symptoms the patients have. While families and friends of the patients seek for advice on offering help to patients, patients are more likely to seek for support from other participants. These online forums act as platforms for people to share their own experiences and ask for advice, allowing for mutual problem solving, support and information sharing. I will talk about the different types of information or concerns I found on these forums in the following paragraphs.
One of the common concerns people have is whether they have RAD or not. People usually think that participants of the forum have a better understanding about the disorder. For people who are not sure whether...
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