Lining Up for Online Support

Online support groups are growing in popularity as an outlet for stressed caregivers.
A caregiver may be perceived as oversharing if he or she uses only one online outlet, particularly one not specific to the caregiver community, such as a personal Facebook account, Brown cautions. If the caregiver only posts about difficulties on such a site, friends and family may not know how to help and, over the long haul, some may distance themselves.

“You always want to keep in mind your audience. Sometimes on Facebook, you’re not reaching the right audience,” she says.

Brown recounts an example from one of the members who was struggling with her emotions during the holidays. She posted her feelings to her personal Facebook page and someone mentioned how negative she was being.

“She posted the same thing on and within an hour had several comments about how they understood where she was coming from,” Brown says. One commenter replied: “You’re not being negative, you’re being real.”

While posting to social media involves navigating the concerns of going public with private information, it can also represent an advantage over in-person support groups. Online, caregivers can sometimes share their feelings more openly.

“There’s something about talking about a very personal situation in a support group where everyone sees who you are: You lose some of that privacy,” Brown says. “Support groups are great, but there is something about that inherent anonymity in social media that can be very comforting. It can make it easier to talk about what is really going on.”

While using social media can offer an added layer of support, Brown recommends not using it exclusively. Balancing it with in-person support groups, an involved circle of friends or family, or just having a person to talk to on the phone or over coffee can help.

“Sometimes a virtual hug is no substitute for the real thing,” Hopkins says.

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