Online peer support platforms have been shown to provide a supportive space that can enhance social connectedness and personal empowerment. Some studies have analysed forum messages, showing that users describe a range of advantages, and some disadvantages to their use. However, the direct examination of users’ experiences of such platforms is rare and may be particularly informative for enhancing their helpfulness. This study aimed to understand users' experiences of the Support, Hope and Recovery Online Network (SHaRON), an online Cognitive Behavioural Therapy based peer support platform for adults with mild-to-moderate anxiety or depression. Platform users (n=88) completed a survey on their use of different platform features, feelings about using the platform, and overall experience. Responses were analysed descriptively and using thematic analysis. Results indicated that most features were generally well used, with the exception of private messaging. Many participants described feeling well supported and finding the information and resources helpful; the majority of recent users (81%) rated it as helpful overall. However, some participants described feeling uncomfortable about posting messages, and others did not find the platform helpful and gave suggestions for improvements. Around half had not used the platform in the past three months, for different reasons including feeling better or forgetting about it. Some described that simply knowing it was there was helpful, even without regular use. The findings highlight what is arguably a broader range of user experiences than observed in previous studies, which may have important implications for the enhancement of SHaRON and other platforms.
The Cognitive Behaviour Therapist
Cambridge University Press (CUP)