Mental health advocates like me often question whether to have a DM open policy. Personally, I choose to do this, but it’s not the right decision for everyone. Today I’m breaking down what it is, whether you should / shouldn’t have one and what you can do instead.
What is a DMs open policy?
A DMs open policy is where you’re happy to accept messages from people you don’t know on social media. Normally, you have this in your bio, and it’s a call for anyone struggling or feeling low to contact you to talk.
Having the DMs open can be significant. Offering peer support can be a rewarding experience; having my DMs open means that I know I’m making a difference. You could be there for a chat, to check in with someone, to listen to them if they need to get something off their chest.
But you’re also going to be putting yourself at the end of some difficult conversations. You’re sometimes going to have people who are going through their lowest moments. This may be triggering and have a massive impact on you.
Should you even do it then?
I enjoy the 1:1 interaction knowing what I can do has an impact, even if it’s a small one. I enjoy being there for people and also receiving that support if I need it. It’s great to be someone in the community people feel able to come to and talk to.
But you should ask yourself, am I in the right place? Having the DMs open mean that anyone and everyone could message you, trolls, people who have severe depression. If you’re feeling a little low, maybe this isn’t for you,
Don’t feel bad if you can’t. You can still be a mental health advocate without having the DMs open. Sometimes having them open isn’t for everyone. You shouldn’t feel guilty for looking after your own mental health.
It’s okay to talk to people and have the DMs open, but I would stop at the point where you don’t feel comfortable. If people are in crisis, it’s probably more appropriate to direct them to the Samaritans or someone else around who can help offline in that situation. A crisis is tough to deal with over Twitter, especially when you don’t know the person.
So what are these conversations like?
It’s always a bit awkward at first. You’ve probably never talked with this person before, and having to quickly build up trust actually to open up and talk about what’s going on can be hard. It’s often quick, and intimate things are shared straight away. You get to know what’s really on someone’s mind.
I usually start general by asking, “how’s your day going” and then moving in more specifically till we get as far as they want to go. I try and avoid recalling triggering events such as rape, abuse etc. because that could unleash memories that I’m not able to create a safe space to talk about even if they want to discuss them.
There’s no set formula for this. Go by what you feel, and if you don’t know what to say – just say that. You’re not expected to know the answers, and you’re not professionally involved with that person; just be human, be yourself and see what happens.
When someone’s in crisis or feeling low, I always direct them to someone offline who can help. If they keep messaging me, I’ll ask them to stop; failing that, I’ll block them.
This may sound harsh, but you have your own mental health to look after. You have the right to not be triggered when you use social media. If you’re uncomfortable with a conversation, you’re allowed to block and walk away as you can do face to face. It’s nothing to feel bad for – you’re looking after yourself.
What can you do instead?
Having a DMs open policy isn’t for everyone. You can still be a mental health advocate, and you can still help people even if you don’t let everyone contact you. It’s not a ‘job requirement’ you have to have.
Sending the First DM
You could always send the first DM. It’s okay to reach out if you feel someone is struggling. Not everyone would reply, but you’d get to choose who you speak to. You could just do this for your friends. Reaching out can be hard for the first time. You could say something like, “Hi, I saw your post, and you sounded like you were struggling at the moment. Can I help you with anything?” Obviously, make it sound personal but let them know you’re there for them.
Replying as a comment
If you still want the 1:1 interaction but don’t want to slide into the DMs. That way, you still get to have personal interaction, but you don’t need to have the conversation. This can be better if you’d rather just limit it to what you’re comfortable with.
And, of course, you don’t need to interact 1:1 at all. There’s plenty of ways you can be a mental health advocate. Sometimes this is the best option, especially if you’re feeling low yourself. You could share your own story, put out tips and advice on social media and be creative in how you get what you want to say out there.
Just because you say you have DMs open doesn’t mean they always need to be open. If you’re going through a rough patch and you’re not in a good place, you can zone out from it. You’re allowed to take some time to yourself, to rest and relax. This is okay.
If things are getting too much, if you need a break, or even if you’re just too busy or can’t be bothered, they’re all valid reasons for turning the DMs off. Offering mental health support is challenging; Samaritans volunteers only work a 3-4 hour shift a week.
So whatever you decide, do what’s right for you. You’re allowed to look after yourself. You’re allowed to put your own mental health first. You’re also allowed to change your decision at any point if you need to.
Let me know in the comments your reasons for having DMs open or not.
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.