This report sheds some light on the activities that take place on beyondblue’s mental health support forums. Around 88,000 people visit the forums per month (6,800 posts per month at 10 a month per active user). Given the forums are restricted to people in Australia, this is a high level of engagement, and a reminder of the importance of digital tools for addressing mental health issues in the community.
Through analysis of forums and in-depth interviews with Community Champions – peer mentors who provide crucial support networks within the forums – this report focusses on the crucial work and clear impact of key peer mentors who operate as ‘intermediaries’, bridging a gap between professional mental health or organisational moderators, and the day to day support needs of those dealing with mental illness. It provides a corpus of interactions and experiences in the words of those who use the forums, and presents a qualitative analysis that focusses on the benefits of the forum platform for facilitating online mental health support, and highlights the individuals and practices that make a difference there. The key findings show:
- A number of platform or technical factors, distinguish the forums’ value for mental health support. This includes the requirement for anonymity, which encourages participation and open engagement; moderation processes that maintain the forums as a safe space for participants; the dedicated mental health focus of the forums and specific categories of mental health problems addressed and supported.
- Participants are clear about the complementarity of the forums with professional mental health support and therapy, emphasising their accessibility and no cost, along with the distinct benefits of being able to connect with those who share lived experiences of mental illness. Participants are also less likely to use dominant social media platforms like Facebook for this kind of support and interaction.
- Comparison of the topics addressed by members posting Threads in the two most popular Forums – Depression and Anxiety – shows how the forums meet individual needs by their focus attention to a wide range of different mental health issues and concerns.
- The core findings reveal how they construct value, by facilitating and moderating activities, but also by affecting others’ orientation toward their mental health issues, their access to the resources and strategies available to alleviate problems and find professional help.
- Champions and other intermediaries achieve effective mental health support and leadership by framing and re-framing mental health issues and recovery practices.
- Champions and other intermediaries achieve demonstrable impact and influence with other members of the forums. This impact and influence is evident in the forums ranging from simple acknowledgement of others’ responses, more detailed acknowledgement of the ideas, choices or strategies others have put forward, or lengthy and specific expression of appreciation of the contribution or guidance given by others.