Facebook friends to the rescue

Róisín Maguire

Despite more and more people leaving Facebook for newer apps such as Instagram and Twitter, Facebook holds one important feature –  the ability to create groups. 

There are some light-hearted Facebook groups, such as one for dog lovers called “Big Heckin Group of Dang Doggos”, and then there are the more serious support groups for people with disabilities or illnesses.

Facebook groups are nothing new, but to be considered for membership of more sensitive groups, applicants have to explain why the group is important to them and show an understanding of the community guidelines. This is due to some of the sensitive and very personal details that are shared in the group in which the admins have the decision to remove this person.

Support groups on Facebook are becoming more and more popular. One of the benefits is that they are free, discreet and are available 24/7. Some therapists encourage patients to seek help online if money is an issue. It is very easy to find a group that you’re looking for in the search bar. There are probably a few to choose from.

Mark Zuckerberg himself told The Atlantic how he wants to emphasize the importance of using Facebook groups to “give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together.”

Support groups for chronic illnesses are important for people to query different symptoms with people who are going through the same issues as sometimes it is difficult to see a specialist for every problem. People can give advice from their own experience. Advice from a medical professional is favourable but since many chronic illnesses require people to consult rheumatologists, the waiting time between each appointment is sometimes six months even when a person pays privately. 

Living with a rare illness is difficult as reassuring yourself that some symptoms are normal with other people is difficult to do. One such group is the “Fibromyalgia Ireland Support Group” on Facebook. Fibromyalgia is a chronic pain disorder with symptoms ranging from headaches, sore joints, memory loss, concentration issues, irritable bowel syndrome and general overall pain.

This disorder can be misdiagnosed as arthritis and often, once multiple sclerosis is ruled out, it is difficult for people to receive a diagnosis. One member of this group, Emily Donnelly said, “For me, the support groups that I’m in have been vital in helping me gain a better understanding of what living with a condition like fibromyalgia means.”

Emily also mentioned how the group had improved her mental health as “Living with chronic pain for years with no answers or causes has a profound impact on your mental health” and that support groups have helped her to feel less alone. “It’s also very reassuring to be able to post a new symptom and get responses from others saying they also experience it.”

The admin of the Fibromyalgia Ireland group often organises coffee meetings for members of the group to get together, discuss symptoms with other members and make connections and friendships. They also organise for members to medical seminars where they can receive advice from experts in the field of chronic illnesses. 

Another such group is “Thyroid Cysts and Illnesses” on Facebook which gives help and advice to people living with thyroid issues or people who have had thyroid cancer. The admin and founder of the group, Tabitha Stewart, mentioned how in certain circumstances, doctors can’t fully understand the various symptoms that is associated with the thyroid. “I think support groups are very helpful when placed in an unfamiliar circumstance. Doctors can rarely answer all the little more personal questions that patients have.”

She reiterated the importance however that people should not take what people say as medical advice but that having something in common is reassuring. “Yes, everyone is different and support groups shouldn’t be taken as firm medical advice, but sometimes just having someone to listen or tell you something is common or uncommon or something they went through, can be a real relief.”

In an article from Medium.com, the writer accounts how after a family member was diagnosed with a mental illness, the research they did online left them feeling isolated and made them feel like they could be of no support to that person. “I can always count on 100% support from the other members, no matter what I am going through at the moment. I truly believe this is because I am connecting with people who are going through the same things as I am. It makes such a difference.”

According to the Mayo Clinic, people who join a support group tend to feel less isolated, have reduced anxiety and can gain empowerment and control over their life again.

Confidentiality is important in online groups so it is advised that people become a member of this group for a number of weeks before posting to get a sense of the community and to gain trust. They are a great way of recovering and getting life back on track after diagnosis but another important thing to remember is that the advice from these people is only from their experience and that everyone is different. 

Róisín Maguire

Image Credit: HowToGeek