More than 50% of online youth (age 13-24) turn to the internet for health and wellness information and are seeking resources that are accurate, safe and anonymous, according to a study (pdf) from Ypulse, ISIS, YouthNoise and Peanut Labs.
Of the respondents who said they use the web to get information on health and wellness, WebMD (15%) is the most-cited source. Google, Wikipedia and Yahoo! also are popular.
The study also found that – in addition to visiting informational sites – more youth are anonymously sharing their problems with others on the web rather than turning to traditional mental-health help services such as hotlines. Fully 17% of survey respondents had visited online confessional sites or message boards (vs. 10% for hotlines) to anonymously share something personal and 87% reported having positive experiences. Of the group who said they had shared this way, 56% were male and 46% were female, suggesting these sites appeal to both genders.
Respondents across all ages, genders and race/ethnicities consistently identified STDs/HIV and drugs/substance abuse as their top health concerns. Issues related to the internet, such as cyber-bullying were also mentioned, but with far less frequency.
When asked to contribute suggestions for websites geared toward youth mental health and wellness, young people stressed the importance of widely publicizing them. Safety and anonymity were also important, followed by ease of use.
Responses suggest sites are most helpful when they include both accurate, accessible information and a community where users can interact and obtain personal support from both peers and professionals, the survey found. An ideal site would also be fun and interactive.
“Youth have always gotten information about sensitive and personal health issues from their peers. What’s changed today is that they’re communicating with their peers online within their social networks,” said Deb Levine, executive director of ISIS, Inc. “It is the responsibility of health professionals to go where young people are, rather than force them to search for health information that could save their lives.”
About the survey: The survey was created to identify gaps and opportunities for delivering health information to youth. It was conducted with 1,600 young men and women in the US who were recruited by Peanut Labs from popular youth-oriented social networks.