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  1. How can young people can stay safe when sharing their mental health stories online?

    • By Holly Turner
    illustration of young boy on laptop

    As a young person, sharing stories about a mental health journey or experience online can be challenging and can raise lots of emotions. It’s a process that needs to be taken seriously, as there are many spaces online that are not necessarily safe. Negative responses, or a tumbleweed silence can also leave a young person feeling vulnerable and exposed.

    However, when stories are shared in a safe way online, in a space that is genuinely supportive and nurturing, the chance to connect with other young people who may have gone through the same thing can be an empowering and even life changing process. It also means young people can take that first step towards addressing their mental health issues anonymously, from the comfort of their bedroom and at a time that suits them.

    The Mix

    At The Mix, this is crucial to the way we approach our support services and we’ve seen in action how much of a difference this can make to a young person’s life. All our support is digital; we have article and video content offering support and advice, an over the phone counselling service and a helpline accessed via phone or online. Our community boards are members-only and are moderated by our community of experts and trained volunteers.

    Our youth engagement team are brilliant at working with young people online and making sure they feel comfortable and safe when they’re sharing stories about their mental health. We spoke to Aife Walsh, our Senior Youth Support Officer and she gave us her top tips for a young person who is thinking about speaking about their mental health online for the first time.

    Be specific about the kind of support you need

    If young people are reaching out for support, a tip we often give them is to be clear about which kind of support they are looking for and to end their post with a question, because this can really help other people know what type of support to give. At the Mix, no topic is out of bounds, but it’s helpful to know whether, for example, they are looking for advice on how to cope with depression or how they should talk to their teachers about bullying. We find specific posts like these get the most replies.

    Find a safe online space

    A safe online space is one that has moderators and staff running it and guidelines in place for all the members to follow. The reason we have guidelines is to keep our members safe. This is because there are topics that can be unsafe to talk about online, such as descriptions of self-harm and immediate plans to end life. Most forums have the same rules around sharing these details and safeguards in place to keep their members safe.

    It’s also important to have a privacy policy so members know exactly how their data will be used when signing up to a forum. Most forums will collect your IP address, date of birth and email address which is a lot of sensitive information to be sharing.

    When you’re in a safe space, don’t feel afraid to share

    When we’re encouraging young people on our community boards to share their experiences, our main piece of advice is not to feel afraid to share. A lot of young people worry about being judged or feel that no one will understand them, which can feel really isolating and prevent them from posting, but through sharing they can see how many other young people have been through similar experiences and how much support they can get from online communities like The Mix. A big part of sharing is just knowing that you’re not alone, which can make such a big difference.

    Sharing your story online can really make a difference

    There are so many young people who we’ve seen benefit from sharing their mental health stories online. One great example is a young person who was struggling with her mental health and wanted to call Samaritans for support. She was feeling really scared about phoning them and wrote a post asking the community what would happen when she made the call and what should she say, because she didn’t know how to explain what was going on for her. The response from the community was amazing; they shared their own experiences of calling Samaritans and let her know it was ok if she didn’t know what to say. In the end, she made the call!

    Be patient and don’t expect an immediate response

    It can be difficult for young people if they don’t get a response right away, but with online forums or social media it can take a few days to get a reply. We let our community know that members might not always be online when they post, but within a few days they should get a reply. We also encourage them to keep posting in their thread to let everyone know how they are getting on. This bumps it up to the top of the discussion boards and helps it be seen by new people.

    Be cautious when sharing your stories on social media

    It’s a big step for a young person to share their mental health story online and sometimes this will be the first time they’ve shared their feelings with anyone. One of the main issues young people face on social media is not getting much interaction on their posts, which can feel really disheartening. It can be difficult if they haven’t had the number of likes or comments they were hoping for, as it can feel like no one cares.

    When you share something online, it’s public and on social media you can lose control of who sees it. When someone likes a post, it also displays that content to their friends, or someone could retweet or share the post. Social media is public and anyone can access it, which is why having an online space that allows someone to be anonymous is so important.

    Be aware of trolls/cyber-bullying

    A culture has developed where it’s very easy for someone to hide behind a screen and send hurtful messages, target specific people with negative comments and share unkind content. This can have a big impact on young people using social media, particularly if they’re vulnerable and struggling with mental health issues. However, there are usually good ways to report them on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook and most online forums will have rules and guidelines in place to help with this too. It’s important that young people keep their profiles private if they are sharing personal content and they can also unfollow and block people they are concerned about.

    Tips for great online platforms for sharing mental health stories

    • The Mix! Online forums really connect people and help them feel less alone.
    • Mind have an online forum called Elefriends for people over the age of 18.
    • Childline also have an online forum which is another great option for young people.
    • The Mighty is another great online community where members can write articles about their mental health journeys.

    It’s important to find out how moderators are trained and what qualifications they need to become one. Some services only offer basic training online which anyone can sign up to.

    ______________________________________

    Our thanks to Holly for this guest blog. Holly is the Editorial Communications Manager at The Mix, the UK’s leading support service for under 25s. Holly is passionate about supporting young people and spent two years as a volunteer with Girlguiding. She has a masters in Gender, Sexuality and Culture and specialises in gender identity.  Find her on Instagram @hpearl87

    The Mix are a free and confidential multi-channel support service. They are there to help young people take on any challenge they’re facing – from mental health to money, from homelessness to finding a job, from break-ups to drugs. Talk to The Mix via online, social or their helpline.

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