Online Chronicling Often Reduces Depression In Breast Cancer Patients
August 14, 2013

Online Chronicling Often Reduces Depression In Breast Cancer Patients

Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

Patients with serious medical conditions have been increasingly sharing their experiences online and a new study from UCLA has delved into this phenomenon to see if it has led to positive psychological outcomes for these particular people.

According to the study, which appeared in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, UCLA researchers discovered that female breast cancer patients who create a personal website to share their experience and communicate with friends and family showed reduced depressive symptoms, increased positive mood and a greater appreciation for life.

"From our own and others' previous research, we know that expressing emotions surrounding the experience and gaining social support can be helpful for people diagnosed with cancer, and we know that interpersonal interventions can be useful," study co-author Annette Stanton, a psychologist at UCLA.

Traditionally, these interpersonal interventions involved the patient's partner, caregiver or other cancer patients.

"Our goal in this research was to provide a platform on which breast cancer patients could reflect on their experiences, as well as communicate with and leverage support from their existing social networks, especially friends and family," Stanton said. "The idea for this trial really took off when I met two sisters who had created personal websites for each other when each was diagnosed with cancer."

In the study, dubbed Project Connect Online (PCO), 88 breast cancer patients between the ages of 28 and 76 years old were voluntarily assigned either to a three-hour workshop on creating personal websites or to a control group that created websites six months later, when all clinical data had been collected. All participants were surveyed on their psychological status before being assigned to their respective groups.

During the study, the women participated in small-group workshops that discussed the potential uses of personal websites, such as sharing emotions related to cancer, providing status updates and communicating concerns with others. The workshops also dealt with common concerns of website publishers, including the pressure to be upbeat or articulate. The women were also fully engaged in the creation of their website.

"We worked closely with a website developer so participants had several choices for how their sites looked, but all sites had the same functions," Stanton said. "It was inspiring to see women of so wide an age range and of such varied computer experience develop their websites in just a few hours."

While participants reported that the websites helped to tell their story and express emotion, visitors said the sites help them to feel connected and engaged with the authors. The PCO participants with a website showed significantly less depressive symptoms, a more positive mood and greater life appreciation compared to their peers who had yet to create a website, the researchers said. The effects were noticeably strong for women undergoing active treatment or who had an advanced stage of the disease.

"We are encouraged by these positive findings," Stanton said, "especially for cancer survivors with the most need — those in active medical treatment or with more advanced disease. Our next step is to gain support for a larger test of Project Connect Online.