Social Media can make it very easy to connect people from all over the world who share similar experiences and face the same problems. From a mental health perspective, connecting and sharing on social media can make people feel less alone, provide them with support and make it easy to share information. But is sharing or seeking support on social media sites always a safe and positive experience?
Let’s talk about the good and the bad, and show some of the pitfalls so you know what to look out for.
The Benefits of Sharing
1. Giving People a Voice
The internet, and social media in particular, provide a wealth of opportunities of connecting and sharing with others. They provide a voice to those who would otherwise be unheard, and allow people to share their stories and personal experiences without the normal obstacles or barriers. If you’ve felt unheard, alone, or misunderstood, social media sites can connect you with others who have been where you are now.
2. Validation of Feelings
Finding support among like-minded people can be a great boost to your mood and can help a lot when you’re struggling. Social Media groups that focus on the issues you are dealing with can help provide a forum to vent about and validate your feelings, and allow you to receive emotional support and help from those who have gone through the same thing. They can also make you feel less alone or ashamed, as it is clear that you are not the only person dealing with the things you are dealing with.
3. Lowering Stigma
Social media make it possible to share your experiences with the larger world, specifically those people that might not otherwise know about or have any insight in the struggles you are facing. This is why the use of social media can help reduce stigma around mental health. The more people share and talk about the problems they face, the more normal these issues become. Everyone struggles sometimes, and whether your problems are large or small, they are valid and normal. Talking about mental health can open a dialogue which can reduce misconceptions, increase empathy and help lower the barrier for others wanting to seek help.
The issues of sharing
Finding help online can be a very positive experience, but there are some dangers lurking behind shady internet corners.
1. Personal Data
First of all, when reaching out and talking about the things that bother you in online environments, make sure you are comfortable with what you are sharing. Especially for accounts like Facebook or other social media that might have your personal name attached, always be aware of who exactly you are sharing your information with. Is it a closed group of like-minded people you trust, or is a group public to anyone? Are you okay with your personal stories being out in the open? Always make sure to think it through, and never feel pressured into sharing something you are not comfortable with.
2. Anonymous Sharing
Luckily, there are many social media sites that allow you to communicate and interact behind a screenname or anonymously, which can provide an additional level of security and comfort if you want to talk about the things that are bothering you. Anonymity, however, can give other people a layer of protection that can lead them to send uncomfortable messages or post mean-spirited things, but luckily we have a guide on how to curate your social media experience for sites and apps such as Tumblr, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter so you know what to do when this happens to you.
Another problem with online social media help groups is the issue of misdiagnoses or tips and treatments that might be scientifically dubious or simply not the right fit for your situation. When people or social media groups offer you advice or specific instructions on what steps to take to help with your condition, be sure to double check with reputable sources. What do other, more credible websites say - such as governmental websites, or those by a well known mental health charity? What does your own doctor say? Always have a healthy dose of skepticism when you come across social media groups or people that claim to have a miracle cure for the problem you are facing.
4. Harmful Advice
Lastly, although social media lowers stigma and can provide support groups for many people, there are unfortunately also social media sites that promote harmful ideas. Be wary of exactly where you seek your support. Although trying to find people who understand what you are going through because they share the same experiences is completely understandable, always be on the lookout for those groups of people that would promote self-harm rather than provide comfort, advice or support with recovery and help.
Have you ever found support online?
Whether it is venting on Facebook or asking for help on Twitter, a lot of us have experienced small moments of support online when we are feeling less than stellar.
Social Media groups can provide an avenue through which to share your experiences and receive validation for the feelings you’re having, but always be wary of what type of personal information you’re sharing or whether the advice you are receiving is helpful or harmful!