Supporters First: Understanding Online Social Support on Mental Health from a Supporter Perspective

Meeyun Kim, Koustuv Saha, Munmun De Choudhury, Daejin Choi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Social support or peer support in mental health has successfully settled down in online spaces by reducing the potential risk of critical mental illness (e.g., suicidal thoughts) of support-seekers. While the prior work has mostly focused on support-seekers, particularly investigating their behavioral characteristics and the effects of online social supports to support-seekers, this paper seeks to understand online social support from supporters' perspectives, who have informational or emotional resources that may affect support-seekers either positively or negatively. To this end, we collect and analyze a large-scale of dataset consisting of the supporting comments and their target posts from 55 mental health communities in Reddit. We also develop a deep-learning-based model that scores informational and emotional support to the supporting comments. Based on the collected and scored dataset, we measure the characteristics of the supporters from the behavioral and content perspectives, which reveals that the supporters tend to give emotional support than informational support and the atmosphere of social support communities tend also to be emotional. We also understand the relations between the supporters and the support-seekers by giving a notion of "social supporting network'', whose nodes and edges are the sets of the users and the supporting comments. Our analysis on top users by out-degrees and in-degrees in social supporting network demonstrates that heavily-supportive users are more likely to give informational support with diverse content while the users who attract much support exhibit continuous support-seeking behaviors by uploading multiple posts with similar content. Lastly, we identified structural communities in social supporting network to explore whether and how the supporters and the support-seeking users are grouped. By conducting topic analysis on both the support-seeking posts and the supporting comments of individual communities, we revealed that small communities deal with a specific topic such as hair-pulling disorder. We believe that the methodologies, dataset, and findings can not only expose more research questions on online social supports in mental health, but also provide insight on improving social support in online platforms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number92
JournalProceedings of the ACM on Human-Computer Interaction
Issue numberCSCW1
StatePublished - Apr 16 2023
Externally publishedYes


  • mental health
  • online communities
  • peer support
  • reddit
  • social support

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Human-Computer Interaction
  • Computer Networks and Communications


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