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The relationship between engagement in online support groups and social isolation among military caregivers: Longitudinal questionnaire study

Background: There is a lack of research on the effectiveness of online peer support groups for reducing social isolation and depressive symptoms among caregivers, and previous research has mixed results. Objective: This study aimed to test whether military caregivers who joined a new online peer support community or engaged with an existing online community experienced decreased perceived social isolation and improved depressive symptoms over 6 months. Methods: We conducted a longitudinal study of 212 military caregivers who had newly joined an online community and those who were members of other military caregiver groups. Multiple indicators of perceived social isolation and depressive symptoms were assessed at baseline and at 3 and 6 months. Results: Compared with caregivers in the comparison group, caregivers who joined the new group experienced less perceived social isolation at 3 months (eg, number of caregivers in social network [unstandardized regression coefficients] b=0.49, SE 0.19, 95% CI 0.87 to 0.02), but this effect did not persist at 6 months. Those who engaged more with new or existing groups experienced less perceived social isolation over time (eg, number of caregivers in social network b=0.18, SE 0.06, 95% CI 0.02 to 0.27), and this relationship was mediated by increased interactions with other military caregivers (95% CI 0.0046 to 0.0961). Engagement with an online group was not associated with improvements in depressive symptoms. Conclusions: Online communities might help reduce social isolation when members engage with the group, but more intensive treatment is needed to improve depressive symptoms. 

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Key Information

Type of Reference
Jour
Type of Work
Journal article
Publisher
JMIR Publications
ISBN/ISSN
1438-8871
Publication Year
2020
Issue Number
4
Journal Titles
Journal of Medical Internet Research
Volume Number
22
Start Page
e16423