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Running an Online Support Group for Those Living With Chronic Illness

Living with a chronic illness can be a challenging and isolating experience. The physical and emotional toll it takes on individuals often requires a level of understanding and support that may not be readily available in their immediate environment. Thankfully, with the advent of the internet, online support groups have become a crucial lifeline, offering a platform for connection, empathy, and shared experiences. If you're considering starting an online support group for those living with chronic illness, here's a step-by-step guide to ensure you create a welcoming and effective space.

Step 1: Define your vision and goals

Before setting up your online support group, it's important to have a clear vision of what you want to achieve. Are you aiming to provide emotional support, share information about treatment options, or both? Decide on the main goals of your group, which could include:

  • Offering a safe space for sharing personal experiences
  • Providing emotional support and understanding
  • Sharing practical advice and coping strategies
  • Discussing treatment options and medical advances
  • Advocating for chronic illness awareness and support

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Step 2: Choose the right platform

Select a platform that is accessible and comfortable for your target audience. Options include:

  • Social media groups (Facebook, Reddit)
  • Dedicated forums (Inspire, PatientsLikeMe, Health Union)
  • Video conferencing tools for live sessions (Zoom, Skype)

Consider privacy settings, user-friendliness, and features like chat rooms, private messaging, and the ability to share multimedia content when choosing your platform.

Most of all, patients are going to want security, and to know what they say is not going to be made public, or used for marketing. What platform will allow them this comfort?

Step 3: Establish guidelines and moderation

To maintain a respectful and supportive environment, it's crucial to set guidelines for group interactions. These might include:

  • Respecting confidentiality and privacy
  • Encouraging positive and supportive interactions
  • Prohibiting medical advice from non-professionals
  • Banning spam, trolls, or abusive behavior

Appoint moderators who are empathetic and familiar with the needs of those with chronic illnesses to enforce these guidelines and provide support when needed. They should also be people that you can work with. Make sure, before adding new moderators, that you all are on the same page when it comes to what should be allowed in the group.

Step 4: Promote your group

Use social media, patient advocacy websites, and healthcare providers to spread the word about your group. You can:

  • Partner with local clinics or hospitals to inform patients
  • Create informational flyers or posters
  • Engage in online communities related to chronic illness

Remember to highlight the unique benefits and support your group offers to potential members. And, once again, that they can feel safe to discuss their personal health stories, and questions. Even if it seems like a “no brainer,” people need that reminder.

Step 5: Foster engagement and support

Encourage members to share their stories and participate in discussions. You can:

  • Schedule regular virtual meet-ups or Q&A sessions
  • Invite guest speakers, such as healthcare professionals or experienced patients
  • Share relevant and reliable information and resources
  • Organize group activities or themed discussion threads

Step 6: Monitor and adapt

Regularly solicit feedback from group members to understand their needs and experiences. Be open to making changes to group structure, activities, or guidelines based on this feedback to ensure the group remains supportive and relevant. My Facebook based support group started off as a place to share non-medical advice.

I called it “Living With Ankylosing Spondylitis” because I wanted to focus on daily life issues like getting through the work day, or how to talk to family members about pain. Treatment was not even on my radar! But, as I learned more about treatment options, and more members joined, I adapted the mission of the group. Stay flexible!


Running an online support group for those living with chronic illness has the potential to profoundly impact participants' lives. By creating a space where people can connect, share, and find solace in a community that understands their struggles, you're contributing to a support system that can make the burden of chronic illness a little lighter. Remember, the success of your group hinges on your commitment to fostering a compassionate, informative, and inclusive environment.

Starting and maintaining an online support group requires dedication, empathy, and a willingness to listen and adapt. By following these steps and regularly engaging with your members, you can create a vibrant community that offers invaluable support to those who need it most.

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The SocialHealthNetwork.com team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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