Over the weekend, PatientsLikeMe was an exhibitor at the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance’s 2008 National Conference, which took place September 11-14th in Norfolk, Virginia. The theme was “The Power of Peers.”
While I spent most of my time at our sponsor table answering questions about PatientsLikeMe, I overheard other attendees discussing a concept I found very interesting. A talk called “I Am Not My Illness: The Importance of First Person Language” by Stephen Propst prompted a lot of discussion from attendees about the distinction and power of saying “I am bipolar” versus “I have bipolar.” He noted that people with other conditions do not say “I am cancer” or “I am diabetes” and that the language we use has the power to change how we think about the intersection of our health and our identity.
As I listened to people hashing out the details and implications of being more thoughtful with our language, I thought more about how it relates to the collective power of peers. Face to face conversations are a time-tested method for empowering others and making change, but having conversations online can magnify your message far beyond a two person discussion. Having read over 2000 threads in our Mood community in the last 7 months, I know that our members empower one another on a daily basis. While a single forum thread may have 20 replies, it can be viewed by hundreds of people, escalating the impact of the conversation far beyond its participants. Add to that the ability to see each person’s status from their shared health data profiles, and everyone has the opportunity to learn in multiple ways on PatientsLikeMe.
This single lecture sparked great conversations among the few hundred folks who attended the event, and now the conversation is continuing with our members. Empowering patients through conversations and shared data is producing real change: that’s the power of peers.