For many people, social networks are a place for idle chatter about what they made for dinner or sharing cute pictures of their pets. But for people living with chronic diseases or disabilities, they play a more vital role.
“It’s really literally saved my life, just to be able to connect with other people,” said Sean Fogerty, 50, who has multiple sclerosis, is recovering from brain cancer and spends an hour and a half each night talking with other patients online.
That’s from an article in the technology section of today’s NY Times, which draws upon a report from the Pew Internet and American Life Foundation about how people with chronic illnesses are finding connection, support, and information in online social networks like DiabetesConnect.
Chronic illness can be isolating for many reasons: you often can’t explain a condition’s relentlessness and complexity to those around you; at the same time, you may be homebound or to some degree limited in the types of activities you can engage in.
Providers should be aware of such online networks and the role they play for patients. Patients get useful information about self-care, and they feel less alone—though some who study online social networks do caution against any sites where the mood is focused entirely on the negative. Good feelings and bad (like good information and bad) can both be infectious on the Web, as we’ve learned during recent political debates.