Many of the traditional barriers to seeking help are reduced in an online setting. The internet is a key source of advice and support for young people, who are more likely to first seek help on a site such as ReachOut.com rather than talk to a counsellor or GP. Find out more about how young people use the internet to investigate health concerns, issues such as sexuality and gender, and the kinds of supportive online communities they use.
Anything a young person would be embarrassed or ashamed to ask their peers or parents about, they're likely to ask the Internet. The 2009 Nielson Report "How Teens Use Media"1 concluded that for teens, social networks are a key source of information and advice, and 57% of teen social networkers said they looked to their online social network for advice. This is 63% higher than for the typical social networker.
Even if a young person is seeking treatment from their GP or other medical professional, they will often check for side-effects of medications online, or get second opinions and treatment reviews from online forums and peers. One example is What Works 4 U, where young people review their mental health treatment plans and anonymously allow young people to read about the experiences of others before starting a new treatment option.
ReachOut.com is a youth mental health website where young people can access mental health information, positive stories and experiences of overcoming mental health difficulties, and a support community of other young people. Find out more about ReachOut.com here.
Often, sexuality is something that teens find it very difficult to talk about, especially if they think that their friends feel differently on the subject. Questions of sexual health, contraception, STIs and sexual attraction are often directed to online forums that would have been unasked or directed to teen magazine relationship columnists 10 years ago.
High schools can be extremely marginalising places with high risk of bullying, and so sex, gender and sexually diverse young people usually seek information online and view the stories of others before risking talking about their own sexuality with schoolmates. Especially for trans* people, the Internet can be their first contact with information about gender identity and transitioning.
Many people from minority or marginalised groups do not have the opportunity to form real life communities. The Bridging the Digital Divide Report2 highlighted the benefits of online behaviour specifically for marginalised youth.
Culturally and linguistically diverse people can maintain their culture and language online, even if their town or school doesn't have anyone else who understands their language or heritage or practices their culture. This is also especially true for recent migrants, eager to keep in touch with family and friends back home.
For people with disabilities, particularly those with speech impairments or who are deaf, online communication can be an extremely valuable tool.
Many people with mental health problems feel that people who don't have the same problem can't really understand, and are socially isolated in their schools and family, but find community online in a less threatening environment.
For same-sex attracted young people, the net is an important tool both in terms of providing support and information as well as the opportunity to meet new people. Reading coming out stories online is a common way for same-sex attracted youth to prepare for coming out themselves.
Of course, these are the more extreme examples. Finding supportive communities online is not just for the socially isolated and can just mean sharing your artwork or other creative endeavours in a space where people can give feedback.
ReachOut.com provides a mental health forum where young people can connect with other people and find strategies for overcoming mental health difficulties. Find out more about using the ReachOut Forums.
2. 'Bridging the Digital Divide Report', Inspire Foundation and ORYGEN Youth Health, University of Melbourne, 2007. Available at: http://www.vichealth.vic.gov.au/Publications/Social-connection/Bridging-the-Digital-Divide.aspx