How can you find the most accurate and credible mental health information? It’s often easier to go ask Dr. Google what you’re going through than talk to someone you know. The problem is, when you google “anxiety,” you get 456,000,000 results!
The internet is fast, anonymous, and available 24 hours a day. However, the sheer volume of information out there can make it hard to find what you’re looking for. There’s also a lot of misinformation, which is unhelpful and even downright dangerous. For example, St. John’s Wort is often recommended as an herbal remedy for depression, but most websites promoting it do not mention that it can cause serious side effects when taken with many prescription medications.
Here are 6 Tips for Finding Reliable Mental Health Information Online:
1. Search for an organization rather than just a single word.
For example, searching “anxiety association” will bring up a list of credible national organizations and self-help groups. Professional organizations like the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) in the United States, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Canada, or the British Psychological Society in the United Kingdom can be considered credible.
2. Look for sites that have the HON Code icon on them.
The Health On the Net Foundation (HON) certifies websites that have reliable and credible information. They also provide tools that you can download to help you evaluate sites that do not have their certification. For example, you can submit a website to the HON Foundation for their evaluation using this form.
You can read more about HON Code here.
A “treatment” only supported by personal anecdotes cannot be considered reliable.
3. If you see a site that looks good but does not have the HON Code icon, look for evidence of its reliability.
A reliable site will identify its authors and their professional qualifications, as well as how to contact them. The site should be recently updated, and sources of information clearly identified. The information should not be influenced by a sponsor or funder. Also watch out for sites that make extravagant claims, such as curing everything from allergies to relationships with the same method. Sources of information should be scientific and not rely on pseudoscience. An example of pseudoscience is thought field therapy (TFT), a treatment that claims to treat mood, anxiety, and trauma-related disorders, but is not supported by research.
4. Learn to spot junk science.
In order to be scientifically reliable, a research study needs to be large – a study with 500 test subjects is more reliable than one that used ten. The study’s findings ought to have been replicated by other researchers (not the same group). You can use Google Scholar to find articles published on similar studies.
Also, look at the journal that the study was published in – it should be a peer-reviewed journal. Some journals will publish anything for a fee, so although they may sound official, their information is not reliable. Check SCHOLARLYOA to identify questionable journals.
Other things to look for include who funded the study and whether there is possible bias, as well as whether the study equates correlation with causation. That is, just because two things seem to occur together, it doesn’t mean that one caused the other.
5. Avoid putting too much weight on personal stories.
It can be validating to hear that others have gone through similar things as you. But remember that a personal story is not scientific evidence. A “treatment” only supported by personal anecdotes cannot be considered reliable. It is only when treatments are tested under controlled conditions that we can identify whether or not they are consistently safe and effective.
6. Just because someone appears to be an expert, they might not have accurate information.
No matter how many professional-sounding credentials a person may have, if the information they provide is not backed up by quality science, it should be viewed as their opinion only. An opinion, regardless of who states it, is not reliable medical advice. Many people who are “influencers” on social media are simply promoting their opinions and personal ideas. Like websites, social media posts should include links to sources so you can review them for reliability.
To sum up, your best bet for finding credible mental health information and support is to go to organizational websites or HON certified sites. These have already done the work of verifying the information they provide. If you are looking at other sites, take the time to analyze them yourself. Watch out for those that sell unverified information or products, or claim to have the one answer for everything.
There is a lot of help and support online. I hope you find the resources that are most helpful for you!
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