Online Communities for the Mentally Ill

First, in case this invokes a tldr response, here’s the group that I visit

http://www.abrilliantmadness.org

It’s quite good, I highly recommend it for those who have mood disorders. Just remember that A) it is not run by professional psychologists/psychiatrists, that misses the point and B) I would ask that you  go only if you suffer from a mood disorder or related mental illness (personality disorders and the like), it’s not a zoo. If you have questions about mental illness I will gladly accept and try to answer them. That is not the job of the site.

I said a lot of what I wanted to say in this post already…

Online Communities are a very welcome idea in my mind. We can talk with a therapist, but at some point it’s therapeutic to speak to those who have the illness and to feel a heightened sense of normality, in the sense of “I am not alone”.

Two things that are especially helpful are the anonymity and the distance.

In a community group in a physical location, people do live near to you. That may frighten some people, especially if they feel the need, sometimes very legitimately, to hide their mental illness from some people. In the online setting there is no “close distance” problem (well, most of the time this is true).

Further, consider age for a moment. It’s quite hard in my opinion to commiserate in a physical location with people far older or far younger than you. In the online community that isn’t staring you in the face all the time. You can speak as you would around friends (possibly limiting vulgarities). If I had been in a physical room with some of the people I chat with, I would find it very hard to keep a conversation going. Granted, this may show my own biases with regards to age, but I think these biases are not uncommon. You don’t have to “act your age”. You can speak your mind. I may come back to the age gap in a later post…

The anonymity is similar to distance. If you don’t want people to know your physical location/age/career/whatever, they don’t have to. You don’t have to share that information.

Think also about appearance biases. I will admit that some alternative body styles can really cause me to stereotype very early. If someone has tattoos I have a small amount of this thought I can usually keep that one at bay. But I get uncomfortable around the highly pierced for example.  In the online community it doesn’t matter. The person can be themselves, in all their humanity and fragility. And from this we lessen our fragility and strengthen our feeling of being a person among others, not an outlier who no one could understand. You don’t have to be tough. You don’t need to keep your “shields” up, you can lower them because no one knows who you are or why you have shields up in the first place.

What if someone was severely disfigured? Severely disfigured people are still people, but I must admit that I really have to work hard to keep myself normative around someone who it may even be, sadly, hard to look at in a certain sense. I am no saint with regards to this. I have looked away when talking to someone who it’s hard to look at. Imagine the elephant man. Online he’s just a guy. Offline people are frightened of him. Perhaps if the elephant man had an anonymous, blind group he wouldn’t have ended his own life.

A final note. Always remember that people in chat are people. Respect them as such. Respect that they make mistakes and that they suffer from mental illness which may lead them to making more mistakes. We are all human. We all screw up from time to time.

Be well,

–Unthought

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