Online communities are the next step in mental health support

Online communities are the next step in mental health support

There has been a noticeable shift recently in the way mental health is discussed in the public sphere. Not only is it being more openly addressed in the media, but growing numbers of people are discussing their personal battles with depression and anxiety on dedicated online communities, something that simply didn’t seem to exist 5 years ago.

Discussion groups within networks such as Reddit and Facebook exemplify how social media can provide safe communities. They allow users to connect with peers on subjects which may be painful to speak about and to seek advice from them. And Twitter, although not a private space, provides users with the opportunity to share their experiences or show support simply by using hashtags such as #mentalhealth and #anxiety. Whether it’s struggling with body confidence, anxiety, depression or eating disorders, there are online community groups who support each other through each of these issues.

Much like attending group counselling sessions, posting in a dedicated group of those who share these experiences can often feel more comfortable, and in some cases, safer, than speaking with friends and family. But the key difference with online communities is that there is a level of anonymity that can encourage people to be more open. This anonymity creates a safer-feeling community, encouraging new members to share their experiences.

Not only are these communities a space for UGC peer discussion threads, but they are also becoming a space through which users can seek professional help. Organisations such as Mind, Heads Together, and Rethink have understood the importance of building a safe online space. Many such charities have built an active social media presence through which they provide professional support, as well as sharing inspiring testimonies and information about other help available.

A groundbreaking alternative to formal therapy and counselling, users can message the charities’ official accounts to receive instant support from a trained professional. What’s more, this can be from the comfort of their own home, at any time - it is the next step in support services from calling charities such as The SamaritansSeeking. That’s not to say that social media in its current state is a complete alternative to face to face advice from a professional, (among other things, it does not provide a long-term solution) but that for those struggling to initially come to terms with their issues, discussing them in an online community or with a professional through a charity is a stepping-stone to seeking help in person.

With the year-long NHS waiting lists and the reluctancy of GPs to refer people with comparatively minor issues to therapists, the future of mental health support lies in supportive communities. Whether these take the shape of peer-driven communities or messaging with a professional, it’s becoming increasingly clear that social media is quickly becoming the answer to our mental health crisis.