The Upside of the Internet: Mental Health Day Guest Post

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How Social Media Can Actually Improve Your Mental Health

Gabrielle Ferrara, MSW, LSW

So, if you’re reading this article, I’m going to assume you are on the Internet. You came across this piece of writing with an interesting title, and you want to click on it and read it, but your to-do list is barking in your ears. You think about how much time you’ve been spending on social media and the Internet recently, and you wonder if it’s impacting your sanity. And if your experience has been anything like mine, for the past 10-15 years you have been inundated with warning messages about how the growth of the Internet is one of the worst things that has ever happened to both our individual and collective mental health.

Somewhere between the Slender Man commotion and the chaos of the Tide Pod Challenge, the Internet started getting a bad rap and was seen as a very toxic place to be, especially for young people. Parents, teachers, therapists, and other influential adults galore were bombarded with messaging that kids and teens should not be on the Internet, as there was no telling what they might find on there.

Now, here’s the thing: I don’t think the Internet is a fabulous place full of rainbows and butterflies. There is some dark and dangerous stuff out there. But as a mental health professional myself, I feel the need to jump to the Internet’s defense for a minute here, and explore some of the wonderful things that the Internet and social media have done for our mental health.

Here’s a little therapy tidbit for you (ahem – free therapy right here, folks!). It’s called a “dialectical statement.” In other words, two seemingly conflicting facts can be true at the same time, and these statements are separated by the word “and” instead of “but.”

So: The Internet can be a dark, twisty place that should be used mindfully, and it can be an incredibly uniting, validating, and healing place for those struggling with their mental health.

Let’s talk about it.

I’ve tried to condense the mental health benefits of the Internet/social media into three succinct points that I believe are worth discussing:

1) You can find free psychoeducation from licensed therapists/mental health professionals.

It’s no secret that many mental health professionals have joined the social media world lately, sharing their experiences and expertise about the topics they know best.

A few things I want to mention at this juncture before moving forward:

Social media is never, ever a replacement for therapy. Following a therapist on Instagram or TikTok does not constitute a therapeutic relationship. Therapists should never be providing you therapeutic services via social media sites/DMs (nor should you expect them to). Many therapists will have some sort of disclaimer on their page that says something to this effect. It is our ethical duty to keep these social media pages safe, and to simply provide education, awareness, and advocacy information. Consequently, we (therapists like myself) cannot respond to DMs, provide specific advice/feedback, or have personal conversations with you on social media. I am a therapist, but I am not your therapist.

Phew! Okay, now that I got that out of the way…

Mental health professionals having a growing presence on social media is, in my opinion, one of the best things that has happened in recent years for overall mental health awareness/advocacy. Now more than ever, people can find truthful, validated, and simplified information about mental health, mental illnesses, available treatment, and more! These posts can be a powerful tool to start important conversations around mental health and stigma reduction.

2) You can find resources, support groups, and warmlines/hotlines to help you manage your mental health.

For many people in this country, receiving formal mental health support/therapy is not possible due to limitations in accessibility, whether it be financial, geographical, or just logistical. There is a huge demand for therapists right now and finding one that has available appointments is no easy task.

Thankfully, there are viable, accessible alternatives that can provide individuals with support and resources. Online support groups are available for nearly every mental health condition and demographic you can imagine, and many of them are completely free of charge. There are also various hotlines and “warmlines” with volunteers that are available to provide free, 24/7 support to those experiencing a mental health concern. The benefits of these types of online resources are unquantifiable, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, as people can access mental health support from the safety and comfort of their own homes.

A few resources that are worth noting (this is by no means an exhaustive list; like I said, there is a support group or online community for nearly every mental health struggle that exists!)

Crisis Text Line: Go to https://www.crisistextline.org/ or text “HOME” to 741-741 to be connected with a Crisis Counselor. This resource is available 24/7.

Suicide Prevention Lifeline: Go to https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/ to chat with a crisis volunteer or call 1-800-273-8255. This resource is available 24/7.

NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) Warmlines: Go to https://www.nami.org/NAMI/media/NAMI-Media/BlogImageArchive/2020/NAMI-National-HelpLine-WarmLine-Directory-3-11-20.pdf to find information about a Warmline!

3)You can see that you are not alone.

I’m going to get a little personal here so I can adequately represent this last point. In addition to being a therapist myself, I am also proudly a human being that also sees a therapist! That’s right, therapists go to therapy too. And therapists struggle with their mental health. I was diagnosed with OCD nearly ten years ago. In the beginning of my journey with OCD, I felt incredibly alone. I felt like I was the only one who experienced the thoughts, the confusion, and the emotional pain associated with the disorder. I felt lost.

Cue social media! A few years ago, I discovered the OCD community on social media. I found hundreds of accounts created by people just like me – human beings with a brain that tries to bully them sometimes. I immediately felt at home; I knew that I had found my people. And most importantly, I realized that I wasn’t alone. I would never wish OCD on anybody, but it is always such a relief to be able to log onto social media on a particularly difficult day and be surrounded by other people who understand exactly how I’m feeling.

So, there you have it! Straight from the mouth of a licensed therapist – social media can actually be good for you sometimes.

The Internet is not always a healthy, supportive, or validating place, and for that reason, I advise you to always use it with caution. Take social media breaks when needed, unfollow accounts that are not helpful, and remain vigilant about interacting with strangers online. That said – wonderful things can happen online as well. Look at it this way: we all have the Internet, and we all have mental health. We might as well make something beautiful out of that, right?

Gabrielle Ferrara is a licensed therapist and mental health advocate based in New Jersey. You can follow her on instagram @therapist_who_sees_a_therapist or on Linked In: https://www.linkedin.com/in/gabrielle-ferrara-lsw-784367143/

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