For two years, we did everything online because of the pandemic. Now that we are returning to offline gatherings, the price of gas and everything else has made staying home and interacting online a necessity for more and more people all over again.
Due to the increased stress from all of these issues coming one right after the other, online support groups are especially popular, but they can be confusing to navigate. It’s easy to join something because of a single keyword, only to quickly realize you have little in common with anyone else posting or chatting. Or maybe you do not personally face the issue, but it is something you would like to write about in a song, novel, poem, or script as a way to publicize the issue for those who do.
If the group has the words “support,” “survivor,” “victim,” or “warrior” in it, that group is for people who personally cope or have coped with the issue.
Regardless of what you may think of using any of these terms to describe a person who has grappled with an issue in their life, these are some common terms to denote a group for people most directly impacted by whatever the issue might be. A “Depression support group” is for people who have been diagnosed with Depression, or in some cases, who have experienced symptoms for weeks, months, or years but been afraid to seek treatment. If the group is for “Natural disaster survivors,” it’s for people who have been in the direct path of a natural disaster. “Bullying victims” is for those who are currently dealing with bullying or have in the past, and “Fibromyalgia warriors” is a group for people who live each day with fibro.
While some groups with these keywords may welcome those who are simply concerned about those who deal with the issue,as a general rule, they are limited to people whose lives are directly impacted. Regardless of their policy on this, online support groups are not for those who are merely curious or seeking information for personal use. Never join a support group in order to write about an issue, market your services or your art to the group members, or “just to see what those people are really like.” You may have helpful, loving intentions, but this is not the way to carry them out. It will only make the group members feel uncomfortable or afraid in what may be the one place they felt they could open up. If you cannot find another group that addresses the issue, contact the administrators or a moderator via private message and ask to be pointed in the direction of general resources.
Look for keywords like “awareness,” “education,” and “advocates” if you are not personally impacted by an issue, but seek to learn more about those who are.
Groups welcoming those who want to learn more about an issue so they can help in some way are typically named “awareness” or “education” groups. They may also be a group of “advocates,” or “supporters.”
Read through the group description carefully before you join a group like this in order to write a paper, article, novel, poem, script, or song about someone with the issue. If the group exists for education and awareness, members may have no problem with you joining in order to complete a project that publicizes their issue or presents those who cope with it in a realistic manner. Just be upfront and honest about why you are joining the group.
Everyone who gives you advice or guidance on any issue in any online group should be assumed to be a “peer supporter” unless they can prove otherwise.
It is easy for someone who knows a little bit about an issue to come across as an expert to someone who knows nothing about it.. Always check with a verified professional in the field that deals with the issue you are experiencing before doing anything anyone in an online support group tells you to do.
Even if the person offering advice can provide links to their professional webpage, remember that reputable professionals do not join online groups and beg people to be their clients in order to drum up business. Check with a licensed professional in your area before taking health, legal, or banking and investing guidance from anybody you meet online.
Remember that group moderators are volunteers.
People who serve as the administrators and moderators of online support and/ or awareness groups volunteer their time and energy. It is not their job. This means you may have to wait a bit before being approved to the group, having a post approved, or getting an answer to a question. Allow the people that time. They probably have a paying job, kids, and/or other volunteer work they need to tend to as well.
If you seem to never get an answer back, if it’s been weeks and you have not heard from anybody, quietly leave the group and look for something else with a similar focus. The first group may be inactive, or the group may be so big, the moderators cannot keep up with it.
Respect the privacy of everyone in private groups, regardless of your reason for joining.
Putting people “on blast” by copying their post or comment and pasting it on to your personal page or another group page is a popular way to show everyone else their inappropriate or unpleasant behavior. In some situations this reaction may be merited. When the person has joined a group with the understanding that their membership in the group and what they say is private, it is not.
Trolling, harassment, or disagreements that disrupt the work of the group should be dealt with inside the group, and quietly reported to the group moderators. If nothing is done, delete and block everyone involved and leave the group. Unless the situation escalates to the point that you need to provide the person’s name to law enforcement, there is never any excuse for “outing” someone for dealing with an issue they may wish to keep private.
Online groups can be confusing. It can be hard to tell what the group is for, and how serious everyone posting is about confronting the stated issue or spreading awareness. But they can also be useful sources of support and/ or information if approached carefully.
by Jess Szabo originally published on Artist Cafe Utica www.artistcafeutica.com