The Internet is full of health information, including information about obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression, generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder and other mental illnesses.
That’s a good thing. People can find out valuable information about a disorder that he or she or a loved one has been diagnosed with, and that information can augment the information their physicians and therapists are providing.
But as with all searches on the Internet, caution must be taken when relying on the Internet for health information.
For almost eight years, I worked as a public health educator. As a health educator, I conducted research and created materials to promote wellness in the community. I wrote educational materials, gave talks in the community and talked one-on-one with patients in clinics.
Many times, I had ready-made materials at hand, sometimes not.
I worked with a lot of people to make sure I had the right information to give out, including physicians, dentists, nurses and environmental health specialists.
I also learned how to use the Internet as a research tool.
When I was in graduate school, I learned how to conduct research. That goes along with any program that includes a thesis.
But back then, the Internet was in the very early stages of being used by librarians.
While I was a health educator, I learned what to consider when visiting different sites. I found a compilation of much of that advice on the website of the Medical Library Association:
Consider the source. MLA uses the following example to illustrate this: “There is a big difference between a site that says, ‘I developed this site after my heart attack’ and one that says, ‘This page on heart attack was developed by health professionals at the American Heart Association.’”
Focus on quality. Consider whether or not the site has an editorial board. Look for information on the editorial policy or review policy.
Be a cyberskeptic. Consider if the site makes claims that sound too good to be true. Consider if the site is the only source for the information.
Look for the evidence. Rely on medical research, not opinion.
Check for currency. Make sure the latest information is being provided. Look for the last time it was updated. Check for broken links.
Beware of bias. Find out who is funding the site. Make sure advertisements are labeled.
Consult with your health professional. Partnerships between the health professional and the patient lead to the best medical decisions.
A go-to source for me is MedlinePlus, a site provided by the U.S. National Library of Medicine, which is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
This site leads me to information about a wide variety of health information, and it’s a place where I start many of my searches.
Today, I looked up obsessive-compulsive disorder on the site. The site provided me with links to organizations and agencies such as the National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH), one of the institutes within NIH; the American Academy of Family Physicians; the American Medical Association; Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research; International OCD Foundation and Anxiety Disorders Association of American.
It also had links to journal articles, organizations, directories and statistics.
There are many reliable, up-to-date resources on the Internet for health information, including mental health information. I hope these tips will help lead you in the right direction.
How much of your health information do you get from the Internet? What are your go-to websites, and why are they helpful to you?