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Illness Connections on the Internet: An Exploration

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Illness Connections on the Internet: An Exploration

People with stigmatized health conditions, like mental illness tend to avoid seeking treatment or discussing the problem, however, with the anonymity of the Internet, patients can gather information about their illnesses and communicate with others through discussion groups, chat rooms and online forums. This paper is an exploration of online support communities for people with Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD). Reactive attachment disorder (RAD) is a relatively uncommon mental illness in which the relationship between infants or young children and their primary caregiver is disrupted (Hanson 2000). The disorder was included in DSM-III (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) in 1980 (American Psychiatric Association 1980). In order to explore how the RAD community experiences their illness, I Google searched for different online support forums. The information comes from the three forums, (1) RAD Forum on, which is a message board that allows for open discussion, (2) RAD Kids Support Forums on, which is a community for patients, family members and friends who are concerned about RAD, and (3) RAD forum on, which is a place to discuss RAD and connect with others who are also struggling with the disorder. These RAD forums provide the safe virtual environments for people to share information and their personal stories about RAD. My findings suggest that people with RAD have concerns about diagnosis, different treatment options and coping strategies, as well as the need for support.

The three forums share similar characteristics in the usage of participants: low number of posts and replies and infrequent visits. Participants include people who were diagnosed with RAD, their parents, friends and partners. For children who were diagnosed with RAD, their parents usually are the ones who posted messages on the forums. As for adult patients with RAD, they usually posted messages to share their own stories. Sometimes, friends or partners of the patients may post messages on the forum to ask questions about what help they can offer. In general, most of the participants posted only 1 to 2 messages and seldom replied to other posts. Participants may reply one day after it was posted, but more often, replies were posted a month later or even half year later after the messages were posted. This indicates that people are not constantly checking the forum and they tend to post messages or reply when they have their own concerns. Because RAD is a relatively uncommon disorder, there are not many posts on these forums and participants do not usually log on to the forums very often.

While participants can be patients, their families, friends or partners, the types of discussions or information exchanged on the forum vary and depend on the roles of participants. For most of the time, people post on the forum to share their stories and talk about their experiences with RAD. However, the way how people present their stories can be very different, depending on their roles. Patients with RAD tend to be focused more on talking about their feelings when experiencing the disorder, while their families, friends or partners are focused more on describing the facts and the symptoms the patients have. While families and friends of the patients seek for advice on offering help to patients, patients are more likely to seek for support from other participants. These online forums act as platforms for people to share their own experiences and ask for advice, allowing for mutual problem solving, support and information sharing. I will talk about the different types of information or concerns I found on

these forums in the following paragraphs.

One of the common concerns people have is whether they have RAD or not. People usually think that participants of the forum have a better understanding about the disorder. For people who are not sure whether they or their family members or friends have the disorder, they shared their stories, stated their symptoms and asked others if the person had RAD or not. For example, on, a boy sharing his story about his ex-girlfriend, asked this question, "Does my ex have RAD?" (Tab). He listed her symptoms as "instant changes in mood over minor issues", "quick tempered" and a "bad relationship between her and her father" (Tab). He wants to know if his ex-girlfriend has RAD and to see what help he can offer her. He said, "I could not leave this woman under these horrible terms" (Tab). He is hoping that participants in the forum can help diagnose her and give him advice. A user named Jasmin responded by saying that, "you are a good friend, and it seems that she has problems with attachment and relationships" (Jasmin). He suggested Tab to confront her about that when he is in good terms (Jasmin). As most participants of the forum have had RAD or have knowledge about RAD, they are able to compare the symptoms or experiences with theirs and see how likely that person has RAD. This example shows that online forums are good places for people to determine whether they or their family members or friends have the disorder and to seek help.

Other than diagnosing the disorder, managing the disorder or coping with the illness is another main concern. Participants posted on the forums by describing their situations and seeking advice on different treatment options and coping strategies. A user named Menard7 is a mother and she posted a message named "Please Help Me" on She raised her husband's birth child, who is seven years old and has been caught stealing and been in many fights (Menard7). She said that, "my child convinced his teacher that it was my entire fault and I am mean to him" (Menard7). She needs help with dealing with the problem. A user named Willow9 replied by sharing her own story, "my husband and I adopted our son and he is 11 years old. He directs his anger towards me and has ruined furniture and punched holes in walls" (Willow9). She suggested Menard7 to "look for a therapist who specializes in Reactive Attachment Disorder", also recommended books from "Nancy Harrington" and ", which is also a valuable resource with good links" (Willow9). She showed her support to Menard7 by ending the post with "you're not alone" (Willow9). For participants who have similar experiences and have been successful in treating the disorder, they are able to provide useful tips or advice to others.

As for people who are currently having treatment, they are concerned about the effectiveness of treatment and are looking for alternative treatment options. An adult female from the diagnosed



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