When it comes to our mental health, we all have different journeys full of struggles and successes. We handle and embrace those low and high points in unique ways. No matter your journey, having an outlet to express yourself and people to support you can be a huge help.
Sure, the internet isn't perfect — not all the information out there is correct, not all websites can be trusted, and there are trolls and bullies out there that get joy just from being mean — but it also often has the answers you need and can impact your life in the most positive of ways. For some people, the right outlet is just a few clicks away on their favorite social media platforms.
You can find a great support system
Whether or not you have IRL family and friends to support you when times get tough, it can't hurt to have a place you can turn to when you want to talk about what's on your mind with people who have first-hand experience with what you're dealing with. Finding online communities that make you feel safe, heard and understood can help a lot, whether you need a pick-me-up on a stressful day or you want help finding a therapist you can trust. Seek out Twitter chats that focus on causes you care about or that discuss mental health and you may find the resources you need, or even make some new friends.
When I moved to New York, away from my family and friends, I had a really hard time adjusting and meeting new people. I was considering moving to another city where I already had friends, but then I took advantage of my Twitter presence and used it to meet new people, both in my city and around the world. I joined online communities like Femsplain which helped me find my voice, feel more confident, and ask for help when I needed it, and it truly changed my life. Of course, social media isn't for everyone, but if you're open to new experiences and connections, finding an online support system can make a huge difference.
You can use it to document your recovery
When you think of Instagram, you probably think of cute cat pictures and mouth-watering food photos, but for some people, the network has become an important step in their recovery process. Instagram is actually home to a large community of people who have faced eating disorders and who use the platform to document their recovery. Some of these accounts post all of their meals as a way of keeping track of their progress, for example, while others just post selfies and things that make them feel happy and confident—all while being candid and honest about their good and bad days. Many of these accounts are private or anonymous as well, so they can feel more open about posting their experiences.
You can also use social media to track and write about your recovery or mental health journey in other ways — simply tweeting or keeping a Tumblr blog about your experiences (whether you keep your accounts public or private) can help you get your thoughts out and see how far you've come. Personally, I keep a Tumblr that only has some select followers who have faced similar experiences as I have — I don't post often, but when I feel like I need to get something out, it helps a lot. It's like keeping a journal, but with friends on the other side to encourage you.
You can use it to fight stigma
If you're up for it, you can use your social media following to help fight the stigma surrounding mental illness and mental health, so that others can feel more confident about asking for help and sharing their stories. Mental health is something people often keep to themselves, but being more open about it can help you recover and help others realize they're not alone. One of my favorite examples of this is the hashtag #TalkingAboutIt (started by Sammy Nickalls) which encourages people to tweet about their feelings and experiences related to mental health. Some #TalkingAboutIt followers use it to talk about their recovery while others share when they're struggling with their mental health, but the best part about it is that Nickalls and others who follow the hashtag are quick to offer support and encouragement.
There's a downside to this, though, that you need to be aware of going in: being an activist on social media can open you up to hate — especially on very public platforms like Twitter — so the good has to outweigh the bad, or it'll just take more of a toll on your own mental health. But if you have a good support system and you feel like you can and want to make a difference, you might just be able to help others in need—and help yourself in the process.
If you or someone you know needs help or someone to talk to, here are some hotlines you can call:
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
- National Eating Disorders Association Helpline: 1-800-931-2237
- National Alliance on Mental Illness: 1-800-950-6264