Cheered Up by Strangers: The Effects of Social Interactions in Online Health Communities on the Emotions of Depression Patients
Posted: 11 Jun 2019
Date Written: March 9, 2019
Online health communities (OHCs) present a platform on which patients can exchange information and obtain social support from each other. Because of their anonymity and ability to break through the patients’ geographical limitations, OHCs play an important role in providing online social support. In this research, we investigate the mechanism of how emotional support in OHC helps patients with depression. Drawn from social support theory, emotional support theory, and social capital theory, we build a framework on support seekers’ emotion considering his or her received replies and the social roles of supporters. Leveraging a unique OHC dataset, we combined text mining, social network analysis, and econometric analysis, and found that the emotion of depressed patients is positively affected by the emotion expressed by the replies they received from other OHC members. The effectiveness of this emotional support is higher if the responses are provided by important members in the community. These findings enrich our theoretical understanding of the emotional contagion in OHCs and demonstrate the value of OHC social support activities for patients with depression, which can be used to direct online interventions for users with depression and improve social welfare.
Keywords: social networks, social support, emotional support, emotional contagion
JEL Classification: I1, M15, C5
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation