Keeping your mental health safe online
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.
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.
- 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.
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.