Improving Peer Online Forums (IPOF)

Study Summary

When people experience mental health difficulties, they often look for help online. This has increased during Covid-19, because it has been harder to get in-person help.

Online searches will lead them to a range of mental health peer forums (also called online communities). These are websites where people with a shared interest or concern can “post” messages to others and get their advice and support. Online forums can be very helpful. Some people report feeling less distressed, less alone, and more able to cope. However, others have reported feeling more distressed and less able to cope after using forums. We do not know why these differences occur. This means we do not know how to make forums better, or which ones should be offered to people seeking help.

Our Aims

We aim to find out: how online mental health forums work; why some work better than others; and why some people find them helpful and others do not. Based on what we find, we will work with people who use forums; people employed to support forums, and people who set up and fund forums; to develop tools to improve the design and support of online mental health forums

Throughout the project, we will work closely with those who are involved with forums on a day-to-day basis. This includes those with lived experience of mental health issues and use forums, those who help to support forums (moderators), those who help to design and run forums, and those in senior positions of healthcare services who determine to fund online forums.

Our team includes people with experience in seeking support for mental health problems; people who fund, run and support online mental health forums; and people with the skills to collect and analyse the data. Our outputs will be shared with people taking part in the research, and then widely across mental health and academic groups.

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