One of the great things about the Internet is that it provides people with access to lots of information. You can just Google a phrase like “treatment for depression” and find 350,000,000 results.
That’s a lot of information. Some of that information is top-notch and helpful. And some of it can be misleading, outdated, or even wrong on purpose.
- Consider the author or publisher of the information. Who wrote or published the information? If it’s a University, a non-profit, or a government, does that organization have an “agenda”? Most websites will have an About Us section that has mission, vision, and philosophy, so that you know where they’re coming from. If it’s an individual posting on a blog or on an Internet forum, does that person also have an “about me” section, so that you can determine if they have an agenda or are otherwise qualified to speak on the topic?
- Check out any sources or ask people where they got their information from. If someone makes a specific factual claim (“half of all mental illnesses will emerge by the age of 14”) check their sources or ask them for their sources. Sometimes on the Internet it’s more common to see hyperlinks to resources, as opposed to footnotes or endnotes like in a research paper, so this can be tricky. This doesn’t mean that unsourced information is bad—people sometimes drop sources for common information to make things easier to read. But you shouldn’t be afraid to ask
- Look at how recently the article was updated or the website was created. We’re learning amazing things about the body and the brain every day. Are eggs good or bad for you? Does coffee dehydrate you or can it count toward your water intake? Sometimes answers change over time, as more research gets published. For example, PTSD used to be classified as an anxiety disorder but now it’s classified somewhere else. Old information isn’t necessarily wrong, but it’s easy for things to get outdated on the Internet – and so, the older the source, the greater the likelihood that it may not have information that is current.
- Get a second opinion. When you are honestly looking for information about mental health, you don’t want to shop around just until you find something that matches your opinion. But if you are surprised or unsure about something you see, there’s nothing wrong with checking out another source or two! Exposure to different viewpoints can be healthy. Just make sure that the sources they cite, and research they have, are real.
- Know how to spot ads. Advertisements can sometimes appear just like the main content of a website or a blog. They may have just a slightly a different color or a small “ad” indicator. Ads aren’t necessarily bad content, they’re just paid to be featured or placed higher, and they usually do include just the perspective of the person or entity that placed the ad.
- Trust your gut. If some information or advice seems out of place or doesn’t sit right with you, question it and verify it before you follow it.