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Depression in Internet and Face-to-Face Cancer Support Groups: A Pilot Study

Paula Klemm
Thomas Hardie
ONF 2002, 29(4), E45-E51 DOI: 10.1188/02.ONF.E45-E51

Purpose/Objectives: To examine depression in Internet cancer support groups as compared to traditional (face-to-face) cancer support groups and to explore the relationship between Internet use and levels of depression.

Design: Exploratory, descriptive.

Setting: Traditional (face-to-face) and Internet cancer support groups.

Sample: Convenience sample of 40 patients with cancer, 14 from traditional face-to-face groups and 26 from an Internet support group, with different cancer diagnoses.

Methods: Traditional paper or Internet surveys consisting of an investigator-developed questionnaire including demographic information, brief medical history, support group history, and the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale (CES-D).

Main Research Variable: Depression scores on the CES-D.

Findings: Participants in the face-to-face groups were 100% male. The online group was 56% male and 44% female. Groups did not differ significantly by income, health insurance status, or days since initial diagnosis. Groups differed significantly on level of depression. The traditional (face-to-face) group had a CES-D mean score of 1.86 (SD = 2.69), and the online group had a mean score of 29.27 (SD = 11.89, p < 0.000). A comparison of CES-D scores of men in the face-to-face and Internet groups revealed that they differed significantly on level of depression. Men in the traditional group had a mean score of 1.86 (SD = 2.69), and men in the online group had a mean score of 27.42 (SD= 112.69, p < 0.000).

Conclusions: These data suggest that more depressed patients with cancer use Internet support groups instead of face-to-face support. Before online interventions can be implemented effectively, their efficacy needs to be evaluated.

Implications for Nursing: Patients with cancer are at increased risk for developing depression. This should be a consideration during nursing assessments. Traditional cancer support groups can help people cope with their cancer, but the efficacy of Internet cancer support groups in providing psychoeducation and psychotherapeutic intervention remains to be proven.