How do I find reliable health information online?
Not everything you read about mental health on the internet will be reliable. Anyone can post content online, so it’s important to think about where it's coming from. Some useful questions to ask yourself when you read online content are:
- Is this factual information or is it someone’s personal experience or opinion?
- Who has written it? Are they a reliable source?
- Is it up to date? When was it written?
- Is it relevant to my situation?
If you're looking for information about mental health online, it’s a good idea to use well-known sources like Mind or NHS Choices, which are certified by the Information Standard.
What is the Information Standard?
The Information Standard is an independent quality mark of good practice in health information. When you see the Information Standard logo, it means that the organisation displaying it has been certified as trustworthy and reliable. It looks like this:
How do I find reliable health care online?
You might want to use the internet to search for professional treatment and support, such as talking treatments or psychiatric medication. It's your choice how you seek treatment, but when searching for professional help online it's important to bear the following points in mind.
- GP appointments – if you want professional treatment for a mental health problem, the best place to start is usually by talking to your GP. The NHS provides an online tool for finding NHS GP practices near you, which you can access through their website here.
- Talking treatments – there are some people online who call themselves therapists, but who do not have any qualifications or training. If you're looking for a therapist online it's a good idea to:
- search through a professional website such as the BACP, rather than through a general search engine such as Google.
- ask them about their professional qualifications and training before receiving any treatment; you can check these with their professional body. (See our page on on accessing private sector care for more information.)
- Medication – you should only ever buy medication online from a registered pharmacy; do not trust any website that sells prescription drugs without a legitimate prescription. (See our page on buying medication online for more guidance.)
Can I trust other people's advice?
You might find it useful to use the internet to learn about other people's experiences of something you're also going through, or to seek advice from peers. It can help you:
- discover coping strategies
- become part of a community
- feel comforted or less alone
It was good to share experiences and find that many other people are in the same boat.
However, when making decisions about what's right for you, it's important to keep the following in mind:
- What's true for someone else might not be true for you. For example, you might read that someone else found a particular talking treatment or medication helpful in managing their mental health condition, or that they experienced a particular side effect. But everyone is different; the same treatment might not work the same way for you, or at all – even if you have the same diagnosis.
- When someone states something as a fact, it might just be their opinion. It's up to you to judge how reliable their opinion is, and how relevant it is to your situation.
- Reading other people's comments might sometimes make you feel worse. For example, you might come across blogs expressing opinions which you find upsetting or with content that you find triggering, or you might be given advice which isn't actually suitable for you. See our page on looking after my wellbeing for suggestions on how you might manage this.
This information was published in June 2015. We will revise it in 2018.