Sometimes we can see and speak to people online which causes our mental health to worsen. But it’s important to deal with those negative experiences and talk about what’s going on so the people around us can make it better. This blog will take a small bite out of a massive topic – navigating the online world with low mental health.
MENTAL HEALTH ONLINE: A SMALL BITE
I’m not going to tell you what you already know.
I’m not going to tell you what a big bad scary place the online world can be. I’m not going to repeat what you’ve heard time and time again.
The online world is dangerous. But it seems a little impractical to tell you not to use it. So if you’re going to, you might as well be prepared for it.
Social media is a great place to see you’re not alone. There are many accounts of inspiring people or mental health advocates like myself providing good social media content.
But there’s also the bad content. So let’s get right into how you can deal with that.
Know the territory
When you go anywhere, virtually or in real life, knowing what’s out there is a huge benefit. In-game, if you know the quieter places on the map or the places with the most loot, you’re more likely to survive.
Having an active thought in your head that there may be triggering and unhelpful content online, alongside the good content will help you avoid such places.
On social media, if certain phrases bring up triggering content, then don’t use them. Being aware of what’s out there is the first step to knowing how to avoid it.
Don’t engage with the enemy
When playing any kind of game when you’re low on resources, you rarely want to be engaging with the enemy. It’s dangerous. It’s uncomfortable. You’ll likely lose the game. When you’ve got mental health – you’re running low on resources.
Negative content is your enemy. Accounts that promote suicide and self-harm are dangerous. They promote a dangerous world. Avoid those accounts, don’t engage with the content.
A note about blocklists
Blocking these accounts means that you won’t have to see the content. But I would always use the ‘Report’ function also. This means that the account or post may get taken down, and will totally prevent you and others from seeing the content.
Blocking accounts can be a double-edged sword. You’ve stopped yourself seeing triggering content which is good. But you’ve also got a long list of triggering accounts you can unblock and see at any time.
I would always use the report button which gives the best chance of you and other people in worse situations the ability to avoid seeing this content. By doing this, you’re making social media safer for others.
Talk about what you see
I’ve left this one for last. It’s important.
Not everything online can be trusted. However, there are people in your life who can. If you see something that makes you feel uncomfortable it’s important you share that.
It may be embarrassing, you may not want your family or friends to know you’ve been looking at negative content. But it’s important to talk.
Based on the people I speak to, the effect of social media posts is underestimated. You may feel like you can handle seeing posts that promote self-harm or suicide (by this I mean pictures of scars right through to videos of people stabbing themselves). I say that bluntly. Because the content is blunt.
And that content will sit with you. And you may be thinking about it straight after, or a few days or even weeks after. And then you may decide to replicate that content, which is what we don’t want to happen.
It’s important to talk so you’re not just confining yourself to the content inside.
This may sound highly dramatic but navigating the online world is tough. More so if you’ve got mental health. Knowing where to look for good advice, and where to stay away from is an important skill to have. It’s not as easy as it sounds.
So now you know what’s out there, here are my tips for navigating this online world.
Look for official sources
There are many sources of good information out there. These websites are written by employees but still may share guest posts from people with mental health. Sites like Mind and Time to Change do this well.
There are many other websites too, like Samaritans, NHS Choices and the Mental Health Foundation which are all sources of good mental health support.
The real-life stories are checked to make sure they are not too graphic and don’t contain upsetting detail. That’s why I always recommend these sites as they have filtered content, unlike social media.
Use the people around you
Online is a convenient, easy way of getting information. But one of your biggest resources around you is your family, friends and doctor.
Instead of looking for content, sometimes speaking face to face is better. That way you can ask questions, interact in the conversation which provides more value than simply reading a webpage.
Know your limits
Sometimes, if you’re feeling low looking at things online can make it worse. We feel sad so we go and look at sad things online in the hope that it will make us feel better. And then we end up feeling sadder.
There’s a personal limit on how much content we can view. It’s different for everyone. Know yours and log out of the social before you get there.
Different people respond to different things
When sharing things online remember that different people go through different things. What you might be fine with, could upset someone else. If you know someone’s going through mental health struggles, think before you share a triggering post.
You may share something through the DMs and mean it in a positive way. But that’s not how it’s always going to be received.
It’s difficult. You’re not going to get it right all the time. That’s okay. It’s just something to keep in mind especially if you know someone is going through difficult times.
As a society, we need to stop sharing upsetting mental health content. By liking and commenting we’re causing these posts to gain more popularity and reach a wider audience, which is what we want to stop happening. Report these posts, they will hopefully be removed and people won’t be upset by them.
And finally, remember your story is unique
When hearing what other people are going through, remember you have your own journey which is different to them. Completely unique and personal to you. No one else is going to share this.
Having people walk on your journey is great. Having a support network and realising you’re not alone is really positive.
Even though we’re walking together we’re going to take a slightly different route to mental health recovery. The ways that you can compare yourself to others are endless. How quickly people are recovering, their daily routine, what medication worked for them, etc…
But they’re not you. What may work for them may not always work for you too. Even if you do have the same diagnosis. Walk your own journey, don’t try and follow someone else’s. Use other people for support, but don’t compare yourself to them.
So this is a small bite into a growing problem. You may find this guide overdramatic, overprotecting even. However the world online isn’t always a great place to be, I’ve presented a snapshot of the stark reality we live in.
This post is a bit different from my others. It’s not asking you to change anything specifically. Rather, it’s asking you to think about how you’re navigating the online world, and giving you things to keep in mind as you do this.
And on a final note, I want to repeat something I spoke about earlier. Always report mental health content you see that’s upsetting. That way it can be taken down which will help others.
Some accounts ask you not to report the content, but by doing so you are making the internet a safer place for yourself and everyone else struggling at this time.
By Jake Symons
Jake Symons is an entrepreneur and passionate mental health advocate determined to share his story to help others. Alongside writing on this blog he hosts Mental Monday: Mental Health Live a biweekly intimate and unscripted conversation about mental health.