BBC BLOGS - The Ouch! Blog It's a disability thing
« Previous | Main | Next »

Keeping your mental health safe online

Emma Emma | 17:23 UK time, Friday, 8 July 2011

Social online media and forums can be a great way of keeping in contact with like-minded people, but there is little information aimed at helping adult mental health service users to keep safe in these spaces.

Negative behaviour on any site, including specialist online communities, can impact on your wellbeing. So we've put together some general suggestions about keeping yourself safe and well while online, with help from two mental health service users, who have experienced the good and the bad of the medium.


Privacy settings

Know your privacy settings.

- Online privacy is a big issue for many.
People who are coming to terms with a diagnosis, or even those with long lived experiences of mental health problems, may not be too happy about shouting it from the rooftops.

- It is relatively simple to be anonymous on sites like Facebook, as long as you familiarise yourself with its privacy settings. If you don't configure them, the world can see all your information and read your updates. Some people choose not to use their real name on social networks.

- Facebook asks you for lots of information but doesn't force you to share it with the world. You don't even have to tell the truth about where you live.

- When you update your status, there's an option to choose which of your friends gets to read it.

A cup of tea

Take five

- If you find that you are feeling in the least bit stressed, annoyed or bewildered at what you are seeing, take some time out. This might involve deep breaths, counting back from 10 in a different language or any anger management techniques familiar to you. If this doesn't work, move away from the situation. Have a cup of tea, or if you are unable to leave your computer, go to another board or play a game like solitaire until you feel ready to rejoin the conversation.

- If the content of conversations becomes troubling, such as people talking about self harming or suicide, walk away altogether. Avoid the triggers that could upset you and make you dwell on negatives.

- Distract yourself. Get some immediate support when you are feeling shaky, why not go to an instant chat site or talk to a friend on your instant messenger of choice.

Think before you write

- If someone has disagreed with you or you feel you are being antagonised, before you hit reply, look at it from the outside. Do they have a point?

- Don't assume anything about anyone. Not everyone is a native English speaker, for instance, and could therefore misinterpret a situation.

- Never make bold statements when feeling vulnerable. Use short and clear sentences to avoid ambiguity. It is very difficult to get emotions across when typing into a keyboard, and sometimes a phrase might mean different things to different people.

There's always an off switch

- If something is triggering you, don't read it.

- On specialist forums, posts which may aggravate your particular mental health issue, are often flagged up with the word 'trigger' or the letter 'T' in the subject line. So if you want to be super safe and avoid getting into a discussion that could make you unwell, these forums are a good place to go because they give you advanced warning of what not to look at.

- many sites have their own measures in place to combat harassment.
If you feel you are being unfairly provoked, use the site's report button [if they have one]. And if you need it, There's invariably an off switch. You can also usually see who is logged in, which can help to avoid people who may have caused you distress in the past.

An   Image from the RethinkTalk board

These tips were taken from conversations with two online community hosts.

Ian is one of the lead moderators of mental health charity Rethink's online community, RethinkTalk. He has many years experience creating, running and using online disability communities and as a member of mainstream social networks.

Ashley, 15, is a moderator on the Young Minds' Very Important Kids community. This is aimed at young people who are experiencing a mental health problem. She has had difficult times while online but remains a fan of social networking.

General Safety and cyber bullying advice for children and worried parents is readily available via a simple search. these general guidelines show you how to protect your personal information and give practical, step by step instructions on what to do if you feel you are being harassed on Twitter or Facebook.

If you, or someone you know, is having suicidal thoughts while on Facebook, you can report this to The Samaritans via their page.

Always seek doctors advice if you have a history of mental health difficulties and are aware that online communications can affect you negatively. This blog entry should only be seen as general advice.

Read: Finding mental wellbeing advice on the web - tips from BBC Webwise


  • Comment number 1.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 2.

    When I was mentally ill I was very vulnerable and uninhibited, so on facebook I ended up making friends with anyone and having very low privacy settings. One 'friend' sent me a really horrible message which not only upset me, obviously, but also set me back in terms of my illness. I think this person may well have been mentally unwell themselves, but the message led me to question all the work that I, my husband and the mental health team had done to help me see that many of my beliefs were delusions. The impact of something like this really can be significant, so I agree that it really is important to do all you can as a mentally ill person/their carer to protect yourself/your loved one. Since then I have been more selective in my friends and tightened up my privacy settings to the max.

  • Comment number 3.

    Thanks Katia.

    As well as being incredibly helpful socially, the internet brings people into your home, and your head, who wouldn't otherwise be there ... and may catch you off guard. So be prepared.

    Any other experiences or ideas to keep safe are very welcome here.

  • Comment number 4.

    So why did OUCH at the BBC refer these people TO social medias to put them at risk ? Both twitter and facebook users abused OUCHERS when they went offsite to petition for OUCH to stay, and still the BBC pushed them out.

  • Comment number 5.

    I think you have to be on guard everywhere really, MM. We had wanted to write a guide as extra help for Ouch! messageboarders a year or so ago but couldn't find partners who had the experience. Maybe someone should pick this idea up and develop it a little more, I think it's a very worthwhile thing.

  • Comment number 6.

    There's a lot that can be said about this, but perhaps the first thing should be that if anyone finds that facebook causes them particular upset in their mental health they should know that they aren't alone. A recent edition of the Depression Alliance magazine contained an article about this specific subject, and facebook themselves offer (or certainly used to offer) a box to tick if you chose to close your account which reads 'Facebook is causing me social grief'

    I have personally been on facebook three times now and twice felt that I had to close down my account because of the effect on my mental health, I've rejoined simply to keep in touch with friends who have emigrated. Currently my experience is better than previously because I now 'play my cards close to my chest': I have set every privacy setting to its maximum and I ignore most friend requests - this may sound like I'm just being miserable & unfriendly but it is because I've learned that some people just like to 'collect' facebook friends, & it doesn't mean that they're your friend at all. I also block posts from some people, since many people tend to post trivial, yet often emotionally difficult, ramblings and opinions - you can block certain people's posts on facebook without that person ever having to know, and without having to 'unfriend' them. Lastly I suppose I try to run everything through the filter of thinking 'how would they respond if they said this to my face', and I find that most of the time the answer is 'I'd just move on to the next topic of conversation'. It can be very tempting, especially in times of great loneliness, to interpret people's comments as part of an actual conversation, but, unless they're in a personal message to you, they usually no more important than a boiler releasing steam!

    I'm sure everyone will have their own ways of treating social networking sites, but I hope that my thoughts may be useful to some.

  • Comment number 7.

    Despite some very weird and wonderful moderation at OUCH, disabled did tend to feel safer at the BBC than 'outside'. You talk about feedback at the news/ouch/blog areas, but this doesn't seem to have been borne out at all. An notice board with the odd comment is NOT Feedback as OUCH really was. I think the BBC has in fact LOST valuable information regarding disability by kicking these people out. Twitter 140 chars is simply not relevant for the type of feedback OUCH offered us, Facebook a la BBC has NO feedback, at least the SH one didn't, and even people who know their way around FB have been hacked to death.

    Yes we know risks 'outside' the BBC, THAT is why we wanted to STAY. This means in reality the BBC can no longer consider itself an source of disability nous either educationally or otherwise. A few blogs just isn't going to do it. SEE HEAR went we ask why ? it was 'feedback' to an BBC program, the ONLY deaf program on the BBC. In fact the board had 150 times MORE feedback than either the SH blog or the SH FB, it just does not make sense to put disabled out knowing that.

  • Comment number 8.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 9.

    I think we all get caught up with these websites and the interactions. I've seen many long running ego battles on forums that astonish me for the simple reason that most users don't even know each other and it's all in a virtual world.


BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.