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 head 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 use it, you might as well be prepared for it.

But first, positive changes are coming. Social media bosses are vowing to do more over the content on their platforms to make it safer for those with mental health.

Social media is also 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 as 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 block lists

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 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 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 use 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.

Final Thoughts

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.

5 Tips for Starting The Conversation about Mental Health

So it’s #TimeToTalkDay and we’re kicking things off today with this post, followed by a special edition of Mental Monday on Twitter and YouTube at 7PM UTC also.

But first, did you notice what I did in the title?

I said ‘the conversation’.

This makes it sound like a big thing. It is, but it shouldn’t be. Talking about our mental health is something we should do naturally. We should feel able to talk about it whenever we need to. We shouldn’t have to sit down and talk formally across a table about it. We should discuss it openly with our friends, family, peers and coworkers.

The first conversation with someone is always the hardest. Having to stand there and say “I have a mental health problem” to someone who would have otherwise believed you were absolutely fine is so, so hard. No one wants to say they have a problem, mental or physical. Everyone just wants to be okay.

You may be worried what people will think, whether they will tell others, treat you different, run away or wrap you in cotton wool.

It’s okay to be anxious about this. If you haven’t told someone before you don’t know how they’ll react. New things are always scary. Especially when they’re as personal as this.

But there are ways you can make it easier.

1. Create the space to talk

Especially for the first time, this is important. It’s not about sitting down around a table, notebooks out and pens poised. Although you’re talking about a serious thing, try to come away from a formal conversation. Just be relaxed and talk normally about it.

The more you relax and talk normally for mental health, the better you’ll be able to talk about it and allow it to be part of you, rather than making it formal. If you do that, you’re internalising it into a big thing, which is going to make conversations harder.

2. Talk about the important issues

Sometimes when we have our first conversation about mental health, even saying “I have a mental health problem” is too much. And it’s okay to hold details back, you’re not going to want to say everything on the first conversation. That’s understandable. But the more details you give, the more will be in the open and the more stuff you can get off your chest.

Talk about the main important issues that are going on. Say what’s affecting you, what you’re finding hard, and if you’d like the person to do anything differently to help you with what you’re going through.

3. Don’t rust through it

This doesn’t have to be your only conversation about mental health. These should be ongoing conversations that we drift in and out of as and when we need to talk about our mental health

So take your time. You don’t have to get through everything in this conversation. If you’re finding it too much to talk, then take some time and try again when you’re feeling better,

4. It’s okay just to hug

In our low moments sometimes we don’t feel like talking. Not every conversation has to be a long chat – you’ll talk more some days than others. Sometimes, all we need is a hug. Although it’s called ‘Time to Talk Day’ a hug is just as powerful in showing that you’re that for someone, that you care about them.

5. Your first words

So now you’ve had some general tips, you may still be asking “what do I say?” Everyone’s mental health is different, everyone’s going to have a different conversation. Say what you feel, what do you really need to tell someone? Say what you want to get off your chest.

Finding a time when you’re not busy is best. When you don’t have any plans to do anything, a calm setting can help you relax, feel comfortable, and be less distracting. This may sound contradictory to the ‘no poised pens’ rule, but if there are no distractions, and you do have a calm setting, you’re going to get a lot more out of the conversation.

Start by saying what you want to talk about your mental health. This sets the topic straight away and prepares you for the conversation ahead. Say what’s happening now, focus on how you feel, and how it affects you rather than just naming conditions such as ‘Depression’.

And you’re in! Talk about however much you want to talk about, for as long as you like. You don’t have to give a monologue, say your struggling and you need help is enough. Some thing’s you’ll naturally want to keep to yourself. That’s okay. Other thing’s you’ll need to get off your chest. That’s okay too.

And remember, you’re doing the right thing. We need to talk about mental health more. We should discuss it in homes, schools and in the workplace. Mental health is with us all the time. The conversation should be also.