Barak, A., University of Haifa, Israel
The Internet provides an ideal platform to allow and to receive psychological support. Synchronous and asynchronous online communication devices, whether for individual or group communications, mirror human offline interactions, thus enabling various types of support. SAHAR (a Hebrew acronym for "Support and Listening on the Net") is a fully Internet- based Hebrew emotional support service, whose aim is to help people in severe emotional distress, particularly those considering suicide, and to launch a rescue operation in cases of immediate danger. Operated by volunteer, nonprofessional helpers, who receive special training and professionally supervised, the service is provided through an information- rich website, and multiple individual and group communication channels. Since the beginning of its operation, SAHAR's site has been visited by numerous surfers, of whom an average of 25 ask for and receive personal online support and advice. In addition, a virtual community of people in mental distress has been formed to provide asynchronous mutual support, facilitated by SAHAR's helpers. The password-protected chat room is used for synchronous mutual support, as well as for providing individual support by helpers in cases of emergency. The growing number of users, successful rescue operations, as well as feedback received from many of the users, suggest that the service is highly important and very effective. Empirical research is currently underway in regard to various questions relating to matters of SAHAR's impact and success.