Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) affects people of all ages. Like many chronic diseases, RA significantly impacts the lives of people with the condition — as well as the lives of their loved ones.
One myRAteam member shared their hardships with RA: “Recently I have started dropping things. I have no control of my hands. I feel the rest of the world looks at me and thinks, ‘What is wrong with you?’ They have no clue what RA does to people.”
If you have recently been diagnosed with RA, have been living with it for years, or have a loved one with the condition, know that you need not face it alone. Online support can provide a safe space for people living with RA to share their experiences and daily challenges and to offer encouragement and comfort to one another.
Online support resources are not one-size-fits-all. They vary in their structure, size, and demographics. Some support options, like myRAteam, are social networks that are available at any hour of the day. Other online support options are structured more like in-person support groups and meet virtually at a set time. Some traditionally in-person support groups may now offer virtual options because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Structured support groups, whether online or in-person, can take different forms. Some may be peer-to-peer groups, while others may be facilitated by a mental health professional or patient-education specialist. Some groups may focus on a specific demographic, such as young adults with RA, or a specific topic, like pain management.
You can find more information about online support groups from your rheumatologist, through your hospital system, or from nonprofit organizations such as the Arthritis Foundation. You can also find resources through social networks such as Facebook or by doing a web search. When seeking support options, you can consider broadening your search to include general arthritis support groups or groups for people with other forms of chronic pain or rheumatic diseases.
The right option will depend on your personal preferences. You may also enjoy using more than one type of online support resource.
There are many benefits to seeking online support. Firstly, online support networks, virtual support groups, and other digital-communication options are cost-effective. The majority of online support options are free to join, and people can participate in the comfort of their own homes. This helps to reduce financial barriers for some individuals. Additionally, they are accessible and offer flexibility in a person’s schedule. Members of myRAteam, for example, have access 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Online support also helps to minimize barriers for people living with disabilities in mobility, speech, or hearing.
Support groups provide a valuable form of educational support as well as emotional support. Not everyone receives the emotional support they need from their doctor, family, or friends. A support group can be the means to share genuine connection, compassion, and reassurance with many others. Online support groups may also provide health education, social and economic resources, and advice that you may not get during medical appointments.
Members of myRAteam are able to talk about their RA symptoms, treatment plans, side effects, or anything else they’d like. One myRAteam member shared their experience joining the social network shortly after their RA diagnosis. “I searched the web for all kinds of information on RA, various drugs, and the best doctors. I felt extremely alone in the process,” they wrote. “This was when I found myRAteam. I realized I was not alone and found people in my area also living with RA. I am thankful for myRAteam. It has given me hope as I connect with others.”
Lastly, there is evidence that support groups can help improve a person’s overall health outcomes. People with chronic forms of arthritis who use support groups tend to be more involved in their treatment and therapy. They are also more likely to better manage and cope with their RA diagnosis. Moreover, people who regularly attend support groups tend to have better social, mental, and physical health. They also tend to feel less isolated, lonely, stressed, anxious, depressed, or judgmental. Rather, they feel more empowered, hopeful, and in control of their RA.
Online social support networks or virtual support groups are not a replacement for medical advice from your rheumatologist or other health care professional. Do not alter your RA treatment plan or start new natural remedies without first consulting your doctor.
Meeting new people online can be nerve-wracking. Some people may have hesitations about sharing personal issues with strangers. However, over a period of time, people can become more comfortable and form bonds with one another. Take your time and find an online community that is a good fit for you, so you can gain the most out of your experience.
One myRAteam member shared their experience joining myRAteam. “I felt alone for so long before joining myRAteam. I didn’t expect to befriend so many members on this site,” they wrote. “People are always there for me when I have my good days and bad days. I am very thankful to have this group.”
On myRAteam, the social network for people with rheumatoid arthritis and their loved ones, more than 153,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with rheumatoid arthritis.
What benefits have you found using an online support group? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.