Well, it was bound to happen…
As more and more people and organizations place information on the World Wide Web, you’ll begin to find more and more unrefereed and unreviewed sites online. Up until now, that has generally taken the form of a layperson or consumer or patient or friend or family member placing information on the Web about a particular disorder. This hasn’t been harmful — and in fact has been very much helpful to thousands of people — because the people putting the information up have generally been free from any particular types of bias in terms of presenting the information about the disorder and its treatment. Well, no longer.
As I scrounge the Web for ever-new and ever-interesting Web sites devoted to mental health issues, I’m beginning to note an increase in the amount of information being presented by professionals to forward their singular point-of-view of mental illness. I suppose this isn’t so bad in itself, since we all do it to one extent or another, as long as it’s presented as opinion, as I do here.
When it becomes harmful is when an opinion is presented as fact. And that is what I see happening on some professional sites. Professionals presenting mental disorders as purely biological illnesses only in need of medication (and, if it’ll make you feel better, some “supportive counseling.”). Or the other extreme… Professionals presenting mental disorders as only needing counseling or some sort of alternative therapy. Neither extreme is correct. And the facts, as I’ve said here time and time again, are anything but conclusive.
What we do know about mental disorders is that we have a lot of theories, but they all tend to implicate multiple factors in almost every mental disorder, including schizophrenia… They are biological (and genetic), environmental, and psychological, or how an individual’s personality is made up. Anyone who emphasizes any one of these three factors to the detriment of the other two is missing 2/3 of the picture!
What’s the gist of this? Be more wary of information presented online and question the people’s motives for presenting it. I’m still of a mind that most consumer-created Web sites will be more well-balanced and fair than most professional sites, since consumers have nothing to gain by promoting one viewpoint over another (while professionals do).
I’ve even become more open-minded in the past year or so about all this… When I was in graduate school, I used to believe in the credo as did many psychologists-to-be: “There is one truth and psychology is it.” This is not true, nor was it ever true. All professional disciplines in the mental health field have much to contribute to our understanding of these disorders.
As the debate passes about moderating sci.psychology.psychotherapy, a newsgroup I founded a little less than a year ago, for consumers and professionals alike to come together and discuss issues relating to psychotherapy, I become more reflective of what occurred. This has been, to date, the most rancorous and vigorous debate I have ever had to engage in to create a new newsgroup or change the status of an existing newsgroup.
Some people have framed the debate in terms of power, abuses of power, and censorship (since moderation will screen articles going to the newsgroup, should it pass). Others have even tried guessing at my intentions, as though they weren’t made clear in the debate before the proposition as well as during the discussion period itself. Still others believe this is a meta-issue about control and freedom of speech online.
In my eyes, what was a simple proposition turned into a Rorschach. People looked at the proposition and saw what they wanted to see. Those who feared my leadership online saw a power grab (as though moderating a newsgroup was sufficient to add to one’s base of power!). Those who feared the recent law in the U.S. (which was subsequently struck down by a court here) which would limit free speech online saw censorship and a threat to freedom of speech in the newsgroup. Those who looked for a rallying point in which to proclaim their hatred for me and others who take an active role in mental health online found one. Those who looked for a prime opportunity to step upon the soapbox did so. And all of this was everyone’s right.
But now that this has all passed, people should look to examine at what they have wrought and the insults that they have hurled. I honestly doubt that half of what was said about me would every have been said about me to my face in person. I don’t mind the personal stuff so much, since personalities are bound to clash from time to time in forums and I understand and accept that. What I do mind is the implication that all of the work I do online is an effort not in and of and for itself, but for me. Nothing could be further from the truth. I do what I do online for others. This has always been and will always be the case. Anyone who knows me personally knows this is the case. And anyone who has doubts about it should get to know me, my history and the vision I foresee about mental health online. It is a bright one filled with hope for all and one I hope to help bring about, in a team effort with others who also share similar hopes. The WebPsych Partnership is one small part of this, while the 3 mailing lists I set up a few months ago are another.
I just thought that needed to be said.
If you want the whole shi-bang of over 3,650 separate resources that have to do with psychiatry and mental health online, then you might want to visit Psych Central. It’s the largest and most comprehensive site of its kind in the world and we’re looking to build upon it in the upcoming years, acting as a super guide to mental health online. If you didn’t find what you needed here, look there next!
That’s it for this time… As always, keep in good mental health!