Candy’s dandy, and liquor’s quicker, but nothing’s as powerful as community when it comes to comforting someone enduring the personal issues surrounding a health crisis.
So says a wide-ranging piece of research coming out of a website established to provide just that to people staring down some crummy bit of news about their health or someone else’s. A full 91% of the more than 4,000 respondents to this survey, all of them facing a challenge to their wellbeing such as cancer, premature birth or serious injury, reported that their health journey was made easier by the support they received from making a personal, albeit electronic, connection with others.
CaringBridge.org, the organization behind the study, is a 14-year-old social media operation (seven years before Facebook and five before MySpace ) that provides free websites to people experiencing significant health challenges such that they can more easily connect with family and friends. Kind of like Facebook, except with fewer cute kittycat links and more blood test results.
Thanks to it, the compromised individual is granted a time- and energy-saving means of broadly communicating news about their (or their loved one’s) condition, without having to multiply, and exhaustively, share updates. A single journal entry on the CaringBridge site provides an update that’s immediately available to everyone, and the system sends an e-mail alert to anyone who’s requested it.
The websites are also a way for others to leave messages of hope and caring for the affected individual, an essential part of coping and recovering. The site’s guestbook feature, say 99% of survey respondents, had a positive impact on their ordeal.
“I think my favorite part [of using CaringBridge] is reading encouraging notes that people leave us there,” says Shawna Farrar, a woman from Portland, OR, whose four-year-old son Ramsey was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia two-and-a-half years ago. “Believe it or not,” she says, of the journaling she began weeks after his diagnosis, writing about the surgeries her little boy endures, the catheters, the countless back and leg pokes, the feeding tubes, the daily oral chemotherapy, “I really look forward to doing this each night. It’s sort of therapeutic for me.”
Since its launch—itself a compassionate response to the death of a premature baby of the founder’s friend—literally millions of families from around the world have used it to stay connected during health crises. The 266,000 websites that have resulted from CaringBridge’s corporate largesse—almost all the costs are covered through individual donations—have prompted some 1.8 billion site visits, with more than 500,000 people finding community thereon, every single day.
And the organization recently launched a mobile version of its website with an app that lets people to access and update their sites without benefit of a computer.
“CaringBridge brought me back from the brink,” one user breathlessly reports. “Through my site, I have come to realize how loved, supported and blessed I am. It gives me the strength to keep fighting, through all the guestbook signatures, with words of hope and positivity.”