Introducing Mr Christopher Banks, Online Communities Manager, Beyond Blue.

Mr Christopher Banks will present on the topic of The Digital Bridge: Tracking Recovery and Service Connection for Regional and Rural Australians in an Online Depression Community at the upcoming 8th Rural and Remote Mental Health Symposium.

beyondblue's online forums provide a safe place where people affected by depression, anxiety or suicide can chat online with peers experiencing similar issues. Use of these forums has grown dramatically in recent years.

Mr Christopher Banks, Online Communities Manager, Beyond Blue. Mr Christopher Banks, Online Communities Manager, Beyond Blue.

Despite their popularity, robust information on the mental health benefits of online forums is relatively limited. The current project aimed to assess the use of beyondblue's online forums, the extent to which users are enabled to move towards recovery, and how connected users are with offline supports.

Registered members of the beyondblue forums aged over 18 and resident in Australia were invited to complete an anonymous 20-minute online survey. In addition to providing demographic details, participants were asked questions about their forum use, the influence of the forums on their behaviour and wellbeing, their perceptions of the forums' strengths, limitations, and areas for improvement. The survey results were combined with anonymised user posting data to provide an overall picture of forum activity and the benefits derived.

Results from the survey reveal a significant skew in forum usage towards regional and rural users that continues to grow. Survey data demonstrates the forums play an important role in reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression, influence users to seek professional help, make positive lifestyle changes, and improve connections with friends and family. While forums are chosen by users primarily for their anonymity, the vast majority are also in contact with health professionals, and in some cases were referred to the forums by their practitioner.

This review suggests the beyondblue forums are a valuable driver of recovery among regional and rural Australians.  Health practitioners should consider harnessing this opportunity by supporting consumers to access online peer support as an adjunct to treatment, and also consider utilising forums as a dynamic space of hopeful stories to use at practice level.

For more information on the upcoming 8th Rural and Remote Mental Health Symposium and to secure your registration visit the symposium website today.

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