Behavioral health support and online peer communities: international experiences
Online peer support communities play an important part in many people’s experience of healthcare. They can be particularly significant in behavioral health/mental health due to the difficulties that people may experience in accessing face to face care for these conditions. There is considerable diversity of practice in service management, target group, and moderation practices of online peer support communities. People using the communities also appear to have diverse aims and experiences. This heterogeneity contributes to a relative lack of data about the value and effectiveness of online peer support in behavioral health, although there is significant research into some aspects of these communities. The digital behavioral health service Big White Wall was launched in the UK in 2007, and in the US in 2015, and is focused on delivering moderated peer support. There are considerable differences in health systems between the two countries, and this has been reflected in different experiences of implementation. The value of online peer support could be maximized if systemic challenges to implementation and adoption were addressed more effectively.