PsychCentral.com Publishes Top 10 Warning Signs to Help Consumers Assess Trustworthiness of Mental Health Information

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Dr. John Grohol, Psy.D., advises that consumers should look for red flags signaling questionable content.

When it comes to trusting the quality of mental health information online, people demand Web sites publish original, professionally-reviewed content. That's the result of data released today by Psych Central®, a popular mental health and psychology portal at http://www.PsychCentral.com. In response, Psych Central has developed the “Top 10 Warning Signs of Questionable Online Practices” that can be used to help steer consumers toward reliable sources.

"With this top 10 list of warning signs, people can ensure that the information they’re reading is honest, accurate, and current,” said Dr. John M. Grohol, Psy.D., founder and publisher of Psych Central. “People deserve accurate information and news from authors and publishers they trust -- especially when it comes to serious topics such as mental health,” Dr. Grohol said.

“Consumers, professionals, news sources, sponsors and advertisers should all take note,” Dr. Grohol continued. “Mental health publishers should adhere to a basic set of ethical principles -- the most important of which is to be honest and transparent about the source of their content. The lack of source attribution on many sites’ content is simply unacceptable,” Dr. Grohol said.

“Top 10 Warning Signs of Questionable Online Practices” that people should look for:

1. No author attribution. Articles should always carry an author attribution. Articles without attribution are no better than anonymous content. Unattributed content is often presented on sites with the purpose of solely increasing page views (and therefore revenue to the site owner).

2. No syndication attribution. Articles that are syndicated should always carry the original source for the article. Look out for sites that “copy and paste” news articles from mainstream sources without license or attribution.

3. Little or no information about the owner or publisher and management. Web sites providing mental health information or services, like any e-Health Web site, should tell you who is running the site, what their background in mental health is, and why you should trust their content. Any mental health site that lists a corporation as its publisher should tell you who is running that corporation – its management team.

4. Little or no professional affiliations. Web sites should list their professional affiliations, if any. Consumers should look for sites with such affiliations, as it ensures that the site is adhering to the principles it says it is.

5. Little or no information regarding the site’s editors or contributors. Just as important as author, syndication and publisher information, any large mental health Web site offering information and services should list their main content editors and contributors (e.g., have a masthead). If a site doesn’t carry this information, it suggests the site doesn’t have any, or is employing unqualified people to write research and scientific articles.

6. No dates of publication or last review. Sites that fail to list when an article was first published or last reviewed by a professional for clinical accuracy and appropriateness show little regard for how mental health information can become stale, outdated and inaccurate.

7. No attribution of reviewer. Just as bad as no review date is a review date that doesn’t list the name and degrees of the professional reviewing the content. An anonymous reviewer (who might be someone without any professional credentials) offers no guarantee that the review is appropriate for the material.

8. A privacy policy. A standard privacy policy that doesn’t take into the unique concerns of users seeking mental health information or services suggests the site has little regard for its visitors’ needs or privacy concerns.

9. Advertising masquerading as content. Ethical mental health Web sites always clearly delineate any sponsored content areas from independent editorial content. Links to sponsored content areas should also carry labels identifying the content as sponsored, so as to differentiate it from editorial content.

10. No HON Code participation. Look for the HON Code seal. While not a guarantee of quality content, it does suggest the publisher is adhering to a minimal set of guidelines.

The survey, which drove Dr. Grohol to issue the above guidance, was posted on PsychCentral.com from Sept. 24, 2006 until Oct. 2, 2006. It asked 11 questions and was completed by more than 1,000 people. The results yielded the following insights:

  •      Ninety percent of respondents prefer original, reviewed content versus syndicated content from other Web sites.
  •     Three-quarters of respondents want a professional to review content.
  •     Seventy-five percent of respondents want accountability and disclosure when it comes to the presentation of syndicated content.
  •     Eight-out-of 10 people will trust a Web site more when they know who’s running it.

While the rage in the media recently has been focused on user-generated content, when it comes to mental health information, consumers want professional oversight. Psych Central is the only mental health and psychology site to offer significant content that comes from original sources and is professionally reviewed. The site adheres to the HON (Health On the Net) Code of Conduct and AMA (American Medical Association) Guidelines. It also recently added a news section with an RSS feed that features original, professionally-reviewed articles published each weekday.

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About Psych Central

Psych Central®, located at PsychCentral.com, is a leading mental health portal that features original, peer-reviewed editorial content, news, research briefs, clinical trials, ratings and reviews of medications and treatments, the popular World of Psychology blog, and a thriving online support community. Each month more than 600,000 people visit Psych Central’s independent libraries and communities, contribute to their own blogs, take an interactive screening quiz, and track their progress over time. Founded in 1995, Psych Central is published by John M. Grohol, Psy.D., a pioneer and expert in online mental health. Dr. Grohol's leadership helped to break down the barriers of stigma often associated with mental health concerns, bringing trusted resources to the Internet.

Psych Central does not provide professional diagnosis or treatment.

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