The Internet and Mental Health: It Helped & Hurt My Recovery
The Internet both helped and hurt my mental health. I truly believe the Internet has done wonderful things for those with mental illness in our day and age. Before the Internet, if you had a relatively rare mental illness, you might have felt completely alone or at fault for your situation. Those feelings persist today, but I think the Internet has played a huge role in decreasing those feelings.
Now, if your mind starts to go off the rails, you can find hundreds or thousands of others who have been in exactly the same place. We can share our experiences and learn from one another and build community around something that used to isolate us.
But as we all know, the Internet is not a perfect place, and I have some experience with how it can actually make mental illness harder to endure.
How the Internet Helped My Mental Health Recovery
I was in college when my mental health started deteriorating and mental illness started taking hold, so, naturally, I turned to the Internet to figure out why I was so angry, exhausted and apathetic. At first, the Internet was such a welcome relief. There were other people who felt the way I did and they were talking about it. I took all of it in, all of the time. I immersed myself in various blogs about mental illness and felt the validation wash over me in waves. I was not alone; I was not crazy; these people were basically reading my mind and making posts about it.
After a while, I started contributing to the conversation too. It got me through my day, being able to talk about how much everything hurt online, even if no one was listening. But it turns out people were listening. Over a few months, I gained a following that was very small but very significant to me. I was part of a community, and people actually understood me. This is a feeling I have been chasing my entire life.
Maybe you can see how the Internet became a problem for my mental health. Seeking external validation, constantly reading and talking about my pain, curating my Internet experience around mental illness and literally nothing else -- these are not great things for mental health.
How the Internet Hurt My Mental Health Recovery
When mental illness first took over my life and I felt alone in the real world, the Internet provided me with a much-needed sense of community and understanding, and I do not think that was a bad thing. However, once your pain has been seen and validated, it's important to continue moving along the path toward mental health recovery and start working to actually deal with that pain. But instead, I got hooked on the validation that the Internet gave me. Even though I was utterly miserable, I didn't totally want to get better either, because I would lose this profound feeling of finally being seen.
Finding a Balance Using the Internet for Mental Health
Eventually, I started to realize that I was sabotaging myself with how I was using the Internet. Constantly reading and writing about mental illness was transforming from a healthy, necessary coping mechanism into a trigger. It was insanely hard, and I had many backslides, but I, eventually, pruned my social media to get rid of most of the mental illness accounts and started diversifying my Internet experience. I started seeking out mental health websites that focused on recovery and community instead of validation through the exhibition of pain, and I worked on validating myself instead of relying on others (though this is still a work in progress).
So that's my story of the Internet and my mental health, now I'd love to hear yours. How have you navigated mental illness in the digital age? Let me know in the comments.
Griffith, M. (2020, February 4). The Internet and Mental Health: It Helped & Hurt My Recovery, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2021, January 27 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/recoveringfrommentalillness/2020/2/the-internet-and-mental-health-it-helped-hurt-my-recovery
Author: Megan Griffith
Thank you so much for commenting Lizanne. It's really hard for me to admit how I got caught up in validation-seeking because it feels embarrassing, like I should know better, but I know it's something that happens to a lot of people, because a lot of us are just looking to feel understood, so I thought I should be honest. Hopefully this can help others avoid or escape this trap and use the internet to start getting better.
I think it's wonderful that you addressed both sides of the coin on this one. I completely agree that the internet can have so many advantages, particularly the ones of community and connection that you spoke to. Your awareness of getting sucked into that validation trap is a key one that I think many can relate to. Thank you for sharing!