Digital altruism: the motivators for, effects of and support received when moderating mental health online

Amy Leigh Rathbone, Laura Clarry, Julie Prescott, Terry Hanley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose – The ever increasing prevalence of mental health disorders is subsequently resulting in an ever increasing burden on mental health services globally. Due to need outweighing capacity, many turn to, or are signposted to, online resources. Online mental health chatrooms are chat-based services that users can frequent to discuss their mental health, often with individuals experiencing similar issues. Most of these are moderated by volunteers. The purpose of this study was to explore the motivations for moderating, the positive and negative effects of the role and to identifying current and required pathways of support.
Design/methodology/approach – This study used an online questionnaire design, disseminated via the online mental health community, 18percent. An open ended interview schedule was disseminated to eight volunteer moderators. Qualitative data was analysed using NVivo software and reflexive thematic analysis.
Findings – Moderators were motivated to engage in this role due to past experiences and to help others. The positive effects of moderating were engaging in digital altruism and improving one’s personal mental health. The negative effects were personal triggers and role specific issues such as harassment and being unable to help people in crisis situations. For further support, moderators would benefit from refresher training sessions and further professional training in which they can proactively help when a user is experiencing suicidal ideation/behaviours.
Originality/value – The research highlighted the motivations for, positive and negative effects of and the current and further pathways of support required by volunteer moderators and proffers recommendations within the discussion.
Original languageEnglish
JournalMental Health and Digital Technologies
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2024


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