The role of online support communities for people experiencing infertility

Malik, Sumaira (2010) The role of online support communities for people experiencing infertility. PhD thesis, University of Nottingham.

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People faced with infertility will often experience a strong need for psychosocial support and guidance; a need which is not always adequately met by existing sources of support. The growth in access to the Internet over recent years has opened up new opportunities for people affected by infertility to seek support, advice, and information through the means of an online support community. These online communities can potentially play an important role in addressing the support and information needs of people experiencing infertility; by improving their ability to access peer and professional support. Additionally, online communities may offer a more welcoming and comfortable environment in which these individual's can share their infertility experiences and concerns. This thesis adopted a triangulated approach to research the potential role of online communities in helping people cope with the challenges of infertility. An initial qualitative study was conducted with 95 people accessing online infertility support communities to explore their motives, perceptions, and experiences of online support seeking. Responses revealed that participants especially valued the unique characteristics of computer-mediated communication (e.g. anonymity, asynchrony etc), which appeared to facilitate their ability to access and seek support. In addition, there were a number of psychosocial benefits associated with the online support communities, which appeared to aid the participant's ability to cope with their infertility experiences. Key benefits included reduced feelings of isolation and loneliness, improvements in marital relationships and access to a unique and valuable source of emotional and informational support.

This study was followed by a content analysis of the therapeutic and self help mechanisms used in 3,500 messages posted to a popular UK online infertility support community. Results from this stage suggested that the key functions of the online support community were to exchange support and empathy and provide a forum for individuals to share their personal experiences related to infertility. Results also revealed that on the whole communication within the online support community was extremely positive and constructive, offering group members the opportunity to utilise many of the therapeutic and self-help mechanisms that are known to be beneficial to people using face-to-face support networks.

The issues and questions raised in these initial studies were further examined in a larger scale survey with 295 users of online infertility support communities. This study quantitatively examined the use and experience of online infertility support communities and how this relates to psychosocial well-being. Results revealed that the majority of participants considered there to be a range of important benefits from accessing online communities. However the study also identified a number of potential disadvantages to accessing online infertility support communities, which appeared to have an impact on the experiences and psychosocial wellbeing of infertile individuals. The theoretical, methodological and practical implications of these findings are discussed.

Item Type: Thesis (University of Nottingham only) (PhD)
Supervisors: Coulson, N.
Rivis, A.
Subjects: Z Bibliography. Library science. Information resources > Z Bibliography. Library science. Information resources
R Medicine > RC Internal medicine
Faculties/Schools: UK Campuses > Faculty of Social Sciences, Law and Education > Institute of Work, Health and Organisations
Item ID: 13067
Depositing User: EP, Services
Date Deposited: 04 Feb 2013 11:09
Last Modified: 13 Sep 2016 19:08

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