Monday, October 4, 2010

Finding Reliable Grief Information and Support on the Internet

[Reviewed and updated October 29, 2021]

Be careful about reading health books.  You may die of a misprint.  ~ Mark Twain

In her online article entitled The Way We Grieve Now, journalist Piper Weiss describes various “cathartic gestures” bereaved individuals use to maintain contact with their deceased loved ones, concluding that such activities not only are normal and common, but also quite helpful in processing grief. “On one online grief forum,” the author writes, “members anonymously share their unusual habits: buying annual Christmas presents for a deceased father, doing word puzzles once relished by a mother, calling non-working numbers just to go through the motions of contacting a lost friend. All members then pose the same question: ‘Is this normal?’”

As it happens, the one online grief forum the author referenced in her article was our own Grief Healing Discussion Groups. Not only did the article generate over 1100 comments from readers; it also resulted in a striking “bump” in activity on our Discussion Groups site, bringing more than 60 new membership applications in the first 24 hours following the article’s appearance on the Web, and significantly affecting our overall statistics for that week. At that point our site had over 4300 registered members and more than 42,000 posts, leaving no doubt that bereaved individuals are actively searching for, finding and responding to valid and reliable grief information and support on the Internet. (As of April 2020, we have over 10,000 registered members.)

If you are among the thousands of individuals looking to participate in an online grief forum or message board, it’s important to recognize that not all websites are of equal quality.  

How can you be reasonably certain that the site you find is safe and reliable, and that the information it offers is accurate?
Before you decide to join any online chat, grief forum or message board, you are wise to consider these precautions:
  • Investigate before you participate. Notice whether the service is sponsored by a reputable organization, and learn whether the moderators are qualified to offer information and support.
  • Read about the moderators to learn about their background, education, training, licensure and certification. Make sure they have experience in facilitating groups and knowledge about the normal grief process. Read some posts written by the moderators to get a sense of their approach to grieving people.
  • When health information is offered, check to see that references are cited.
  • Make certain that the group or forum you select is made up of mourners with whom you can identify. Read some of the posts in a given forum to decide if you can relate to the people gathered there.
  • Look for an option that enables you to report to the moderator(s) any post that you find objectionable.
  • Use your own good judgment and common sense. If something doesn’t feel right, if you don’t feel safe, accepted or understood, trust your instincts, leave immediately and find another group.
Note that many reliable websites display a seal of certification from a trusted accrediting organization, such as the one you see on this blog (and on our Grief Healing Discussion Groups site as well) from the Health On the Net (HON) Foundation. This seal certifies that the site provides transparency regarding authority, authorship, confidentiality and funding, is up-to date, honest about advertising, and provides clear distinction between advertisement and editorial content. Visitors need only to click on the seal to make sure that certification is still valid.

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