Background: Young people increasingly look towards the Internet for support. Online forums have been developed to provide mental health support, but they have received little attention in the research to date.
Aims: To summarise the existing literature examining how individuals use online forums to obtain support for mental health difficulties.
Methods: A systematic review of electronic databases was conducted to identify empirical literature in this area. The papers that met the inclusion criteria and satisfied quality assessment review were analysed for key themes.
Results: Twenty-one papers were found. Three common themes in the papers were associated with opportunities of the technology: (1) Providing stand alone or complementary informal support, (2) Providing informational, emotional and infomotional support, and (3) Making use of the specific practical opportunities afforded by forum technology. A further three themes were associated with challenges: (1) Managing the expectations of forum users, (2) Ensuring service user safety, and (3) Navigating the technical challenges associated with forums.
Conclusions: The paper highlights the potential for individuals to access dynamic and responsive support within online forums. Additionally, it reflects upon the major areas that mental health professionals need to be aware of when entering into this arena.