Blog Archives

The Internet And Mental Health

The internet. It’s a great invention, & most people use it at least once a day, but is it good or bad for our mental health? How does it impact upon mental health?

There’s a thousand and one ways to answer those questions & of course the answer is at least partially subjective & dependent on a number of factors, but ultimately I think it has got to be one of the best things out there to support people with mental health issues.

Social media is huge in finding support & realising that you are not alone with how you feel. There are an astounding number of twitter accounts which are set up with the aim of supporting people or raising awareness of mental health issues. There’s also plenty of accounts where people vent about their feelings, or talk about their feelings & how they are being impacted on a day to day basis. This can be both a positive & a negative thing.

Certain accounts can be triggering for people, with them talking in great detail about self harm or suicidal feelings. This is something that is crucial to monitor. Firstly, it’s important that these people get professional support, but secondly it’s important that if something is triggering you that you step away from it. They can cause distress & harm, therefore having a negative impact on your mental health, especially of they are something that is seen every single day. The thing is, though, it is crucial to remember that these people have their own issues, rather than criticising them, try to encourage them to seek support from a professional & talk to them about how they can go about doing so, or if they already are, then what it is that they are withholding &/or why.

The support accounts can be helpful, but they should in no way take the place of professional help, & hopefully most will state this in some form or another because it can be dangerous to take advice from someone with no professional knowledge. Make sure that you trust the person & know where they are getting the information they are giving out, from. From a personal point of view, everything I write is based on my own experiences & is geared towards encouraging people to speak about their feelings, & to give people hope, rather than attempting to provide advice. Occasionally I may offer words of advice, & in private I do, but publicly I will always post what is on my mind from personal experience, which generally tends to be what helped me through. Largely, support accounts provide a platform & a tool to be utilised & provide information which can be used to build on what is gained through professional intervention.

The internet more widely, as a whole, is slightly different. There’s far too much stigma out there still, I see it everyday on some of the forums I use that have nothing to do with mental health. However, there’s also plenty of places out there which allow for support, plenty of information & assist in gaining knowledge about the symptoms of mental health issues, ways to combat them & simply people to talk to. It allows people to make more friends, sometimes those with similar issues to themselves & in some ways can create a peer support system. Again, I stress that professional support should not be replaced with this, but that it is still useful.

Overall the internet can have a positive impact on mental health, it can create friendships, increase social opportunities & provide information as well as support. However, it is how these tools are seen & developed that is the most critical aspect in determining how useful the internet is for mental health. Largely it is down to how we use the internet. Use it too much & it can have a detrimental impact on our social lives, thus not helping our mental health. Indeed, it can be far too easy to get to a stage where we are simply focussed on our on-line lives, rather than striking a healthy balance between the two. I refuse to use the term “in real life” because the internet is real life, it’s just an extension of our lives which happens to be slightly different. It’s terms like this which perpetuate the stigma around forming relationships on-line & ultimately can contribute to mental health issues. People can feel trapped between two worlds, the outside world in person, & the on-line world. For some people the internet is their only recluse, to escape from the mundane reality of everyday life, the pain & suffering they experience in their day to day life. Some people find it easier to form relationships on-line, which in turn can also help them to form relationships in person. It can be frustrating to see people say that accounts such as those which trigger people & talk vividly about mental health issues in a somewhat perturbing way, should be closed down. Yes, they need professional support, but you’d be taking away a vital network & resource for them to vent & to talk. It’s absolutely critical that they are allowed to express how they feel, but likewise they need to be challenged, or at least they need to have it told as it is. Abrupt, but polite & sensitively done.

The internet has played an absolutely massive part in my life & assisted immensely in bringing me out of depression & into a more stable, happier place. Most of my closest friends are those who are going through similar to me or similar to what I have been through. They are the people I’ve known through on-line conversations when I’ve sought to find people that help me see I was not alone. They are the people who have come through a lot of difficult situations, low moods & struggles. Most are not “recovered” & they are neither in a place you might want to label depressed or any other label you wish to use. They’ve come through the darkest days & they’ve got somewhere, but they’ve fallen back into confusion & difficulty as a result of x, y & z. However, they are stronger for their experiences & more prepared to deal with what comes at them, finding ways to deal with their issues. These people are friends I have made through on-line conversations. I’d rather have friends who I had things in common with & cared about, than worry about the manner in which I have made those friendships. After all, they are friendships, it just so happens that I don’t get to see them face to face all that often.

Stigma will possibly always exist in some form, as language evolves & meanings become skewed, words become ambiguous. Some people will see things in a different way to others & for whatever reason may find it enjoyable to mock those with mental health issues, or at least to attempt to increase the myths & misunderstanding surrounding mental health issues & mental illness. The internet provides a platform for them to do this, but equally it provides a platform for people to strike back & dispel some of those myths & misunderstandings. A collective effort to find ways to talk more about mental health is required, as it will encompass all of the things mentioned in this post & hopefully save a few lives, improve a few lives, transform a few lives, because your voice, your pen, your keyboard, they’re some of the most powerful tools you will ever have or find. Whilst your actions may speak louder than your words, it is your words which can also put warmth into the coldest of places, to put light back into the lives of people, create a spark & propel people towards achieving what they are capable of, propel people towards greatness.

Be careful with what you put on the internet, be careful who you trust, but don’t be afraid to use it to find like-minded people, those who can relate to your experiences. Feel free to support people, but remember that you cannot help anyone unless you are in a good enough place yourself. By looking after yourself, you look after others who you may support. People who care about you. Next time you go to write something about your state of mind on a forum, a blog, on Facebook or Twitter, take a moment to consider what potential impact it may have on someone. If it’s likely to upset someone, then perhaps write it down privately. Try to seek out that support in a direct, constructive way. It can be difficult when you are led by your feelings & not your head, but it’s not impossible, & it’s a technique which will serve you well in the future. The best way to find support, is to ask for it. Attention seeking? Yeah. Yeah it is. Attention being that fundamental human need that we all have. Quite why there is so much negative association with that phrase I fail to accurately comprehend, but to seek attention is not a problem. It’s how you go about it that matters. Everyone needs attention, & if you’re lacking it, or needing some more to help you through, then please ask for it, because there’s always going to be someone out there who is willing to support you. Hinting at things, posting cryptic things, as a general rule is not going to help anyone. Sometimes you might need to get something out that only you understand & hope that maybe another person might realise what you’re talking about, & that’s ok, but try to limit the times you do that & actively seek support in a direct manner.

The internet has allowed for much greater social interaction, more information & support in terms of mental health, but really, the main benefit of the internet when it comes to mental health is to integrate all of these things & allow them to interconnect. If you write a blog about how you feel, & you share it via social networking or a forum, you gain the opportunity to discuss mental health & mental health issues. By talking about it, you help to understand it better, new ideas form & more detailed, developed discussions occur. More complex & engaging conversations happen, you get to understand the way people think & how to interact best with people. By sharing it with social networks you allow a greater number of people access & you can form relationships through these means. You also will be able to find more information about how to find support in your area, & then you can begin to find better ways to help yourself through the feelings that you may deem insurmountable, but are in actual fact, usually temporary. There are websites out there which allow you to relax & take your mind off of things, websites which allow you to engage with the world & what is happening in it, websites which allow you to discuss common interests & meet people who share your interests. Websites which help you to find information about things. The internet is an extension of our every day life & it’s one of the most important tools when it comes to mental health. The relationships which can be formed assist in recovery, or in teaching about mental health issues. They give another view on things. Ultimately, the internet provides a foundation upon which you can choose to access & build upon. It allows for a journey of greater self discovery, but it needs to be noted that a lot of things which it provides are merely more detailed versions of what you can find in your day to day life in person. Use the internet in an appropriate manner alongside maintaining healthy relationships outside of it & it can be an instrumental part of recovering from mental health issues.

It’s ok to talk.

Advertisements

Today ‘The Sun…

Today ‘The Sun’ carried a story about a young woman who found ways to kill herself from certain websites, & ended up with brain damage following an unsuccessful attempt. It focussed on “suicide websites” & self harm forums, and their influence over this woman. 

A similar story was carried in the daily mail yesterday, & again I find myself angry as it is very misleading and ambiguous. 

My comment on the daily mail article (which did not get published) was as follows:

“I find it very very sad that this girl felt that the only option was to take her own life. Having suffered from depression for 3 years, and knowing what it feels like to do the things described, I can empathise with her & those affected by mental health issues. 

However, the article is misleading, and does not explain the nature of the sites. Were they pro-anorexia & self harm websites & forums? If so then I completely agree that they should be banned, although, if they were merely support forums then I strongly disagree. Supportive sites which focus on providing a platform for the expression of emotions are an important step towards recovery for many people. It is up to the individual to determine whether they will be ‘triggered’ by the content or whether it will help. Forums which discuss self harm, but are focussed on the recovery from mental health issues & self harm should be welcomed, otherwise we will not reduce stigma, and we will only serve to increase the rates of suicides. Furthermore, these sites are often ways to make friends with likeminded people, as Ruby Wax put it “our tribe”. This then leads to peer-support in the majority of cases, and the prevention of suicide or self harm. So it would be good if the articles were not so ambiguous and potentially misleading. I feel they perpetuate the myths & stigma around self harm & suicide.

What those articles should show people, is that it is ESSENTIAL that they seek professional support for mental health issues but also that it is ok to talk about them. We need to end stigma around mental health”

The Slings And Arrows Of Outrageous Fortune

Depression. More than just a word. A very real, debilitating condition. I was diagnosed with it when I had just turned 16, and in truth knew very little about it. But it was through talking to people about how I was feeling that I came to be in the doctor’s surgery being told that I had depression and referred to a counselling service and that I will enter that very same doctor’s surgery in a few weeks time to hopefully be told I no longer suffer from depression.

Talking about mental health is seen as something to be afraid of, people are afraid of the reactions they might get, but I was in the fortunate position to have good people around me, and a support network that I built up by talking out about my own mental health. It was when I began college that I suffered my most severe bouts of depression, and it was then that I began to explore what it was and how I could bring myself out of this deep dark black hole, a journey which seemed to be an endless spiral into the depths of despair. Soon I concluded that for me to get better, my friends and teachers needed to know what I was going through. Fortunately I was on good terms with my form tutor who appeared sensitive and understanding. Indeed, this proved to be the case when one day I stayed behind to discuss the problems that I had been having. My tutor was happy to listen to me and not only that but encouraged me to seek support by actively inquiring as to what support was available throughout the college. It transpired that the only time I could get counselling was during tutor periods, and having discussed it with my tutor, I was able to take up this opportunity.

The first time I went to the room where counselling was, I walked past a handful of people waiting nearby, sitting on the floor. As I walked past them, I felt the anxiety that had crippled me thus far at college, as if they somehow knew what I was going in for, and were looking disapprovingly at me. Of course they weren’t, how could they possibly have known? They couldn’t have. The trouble is that’s sometimes how people feel as a result of the stigma that manifests itself within of our society today.  However, those who mock us, who see mental health issues and mental illness as a weakness, are so very wrong. I am a stronger person for my depression, because I talked about it to people, I managed to find the causes and the triggers and in turn managed to utilise the support I received to educate myself whilst improving my mood.

My experience of stigma has been both direct and indirect, with friends whom I have got to know through support groups but also in the form of people using words such as “schizo” or phrases like “I’m so sad I’m going to cut my wrists” as a sarcastic response to something that has been said to them. This is stigma as much as people telling us to “get over it”. However, I was told that I was a “hater of life in general” by someone who was supposed to be my friend and knew about my depression. Despite this affecting me at the time and making me feel like I was attention seeking or that I should keep my problems to myself I persevered because I knew in my heart that the only way I was going to get better was by talking about it. Today, one of my favourite pieces of writing comes from Hamlet, the play by Shakespeare, with the famous soliloquy ‘to be or not to be’. Hamlet is in a battle with his mind as to whether or not to live anymore. This, I feel documents the feelings many people go through with mental illness and certainly resonates with how I felt. I use it to remind myself that I was right to choose the option to be, to exist. We are all unique, special and contribute to society merely by existing.

Thankfully, we’ve largely moved on from the times where it was unacceptable to be homosexual or to be of any other ethnic origin than white British, but yet with mental health there still remains this ancient attitude that we are somewhat inferior. Why should attitudes towards our health be any different to our race or our sexuality?

We need folk to sit and listen to what we have to say, to try and understand what we are feeling, you cannot do that by treating the symptoms and ignoring the cause.” This quote sums up my experience with, and views towards the treatment of depression. I reached out to those who were willing to listen and try to understand what I felt, and I will be eternally grateful to those friends who did this.