Internet support groups for depression: A 1-year prospective cohort study

Thomas K. Houston, Lisa A. Cooper, Daniel E. Ford

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective: This study described the characteristics of users of Internet-based depression support groups and assessed whether use predicts change in depression symptoms and social support. Method: Users (N=103) of these groups were recruited into the study cohort and followed prospectively. Demographic characteristics, support group use, depression care, score on the Medical Outcomes Study Social Support Survey, and score on the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale (CES-D Scale) were assessed by Internet survey at baseline, 6 months, and 12 months. Results: Users' demographic characteristics included median age of 40 years, 78.6% women, and 56.3% unmarried. Most (86.4%) were currently depressed (CES-D Scale score >22). Over 50% of participants heavily used the support group (5 or more hours in 2 weeks), and 37.9% preferred online communication to face-to-face counseling. Social support scores were low, compared with those from other studies of primary care patients with depression. The overall follow-up rate was 81.6% at 6 or 12 months. During follow-up, 72.6% of responders still participated in the online group; 81.0% were still receiving face-to-face depression care. Heavy users of the Internet groups were more likely to have resolution of depression (CES-D Scale score ≤22) during follow-up than less frequent users, after adjustment for age, gender, employment, and baseline CES-D Scale score with logistic regression. Social support scores did not change during follow-up. Conclusions: Users had high depression severity scores, were socially isolated, and perceived considerable benefit from the group. Internet depression support groups warrant continued research regarding supplementation of face-to-face depression care.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2062-2068
Number of pages7
JournalAmerican Journal of Psychiatry
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 1 2002

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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