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Finding Information Online >From Peers and Professionals

Published: November 16, 2005

Web sites and mental health support groups, many doctors agree, can provide patients with valuable information about treatments for depression, anxiety, attention deficit disorder and other problems. And learning about psychiatric medications from peers, they say, can destigmatize mental illness in a way that no medical authority ever could.

But they caution that such unmediated modes of communication can also be dangerously misleading. People who frequent Internet discussion forums on mental health, psychiatrists and forum participants say, tend to have more intractable conditions and be more daring about managing their own medications.

"There's so much out there and such a mixture of information and misinformation," said Dr. Ivan K. Goldberg, a psychiatrist in New York. "People are not always the best judges about what's going on with themselves."

Information about medications and forums on mental health, moderated by doctors, can be found at webmd.com. The site's parent company recently bought rxlist.com, an unmoderated site whose popular discussion groups are organized by the names of prescription drugs.

For those who want to learn more about dosage guidelines or the side effects of a particular drug, the Food and Drug Administration recently introduced a Web site, Daily Med System (dailymed.nlm.nih.gov). The site publishes the information contained in the package inserts of prescription drugs. Drug makers are now required to submit label changes electronically, so the site can be updated immediately.

At the Mood Disorders Support Group of New York City, the moderators do not have medical degrees, but they are trained to intervene with basic information about medication when participants appear to be leading one another astray. The group's Web site, with links to other groups around the country, is mdsg.org.

Dr. Goldberg, the group's medical adviser, maintains a Web site, Depression Central (psycom.net/depression.central.html), with links to information he has vetted about treatments for a range of mood disorders.

As a place to share experiences online, he suggests wingofmadness.com, a Web site with discussion forums, and the Pendulum e-mail list (pendulum.org). Dr. Goldberg recommends viewing the information in any anonymous forum with a healthy skepticism.

Dr. Goldberg and other doctors said they had had patients leave their offices on several occasions when they refused to give the patients the medications they wanted based on advice found on the Internet. On the other hand, Dr. Goldberg said, "Every once in a while I say, 'Wow, that's 100 percent right on.' "

 

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