The Internet’s Ecosystem Can Actually be Good for Mental Health

Can any good come from discussing mental health online?

I believe so.

When it comes anonymity online, we are used to hearing about its negative consequences. There are stories of cyberbullies, predators, and criminal hackers. Obviously, these components of complexity to the internet are imperfect and damaging. People can be led down negative emotional paths due to their technological ecosystems. Many of these issues could be resolved simply from spending less time online. So, what’s the catch.

I believe there is a lot more good, positive people and interactions within our internet’s ecosystem than bad.

Obviously, this differs from the common narrative we hear. Negative stories make better news. However, everyday interactions of online users helping and communicating with each other goes unnoticed. If we redirect the spotlight, we can continue to build reciprocal networks that are beneficial.

Mental Well-Being and Online Help

A study of around 500 teenagers found a high preference for “self-help and action-oriented” strategies. While having a low likelihood to seek professional help for their mental health issues. Furthermore, the study indicted a large satisfaction rate for help they received online. I think this relationship between a tendency for younger generations to turn online for help and mental health is not discussed or utilized enough.

I acknowledge the criticism here that people with serious issues should seek professional help. I agree. However, there is a staggering rate of individuals with mental health issues who are not seeking help. A World Health report suggests this number to be around 300 million individuals. This bulging demand suggests the need for more ways to seek mental health care.The primary barriers preventing these individuals from seeking treatment are stigma and lack of awareness.

Currently many psychologists research ways we can reduce obstacles that are in the way of seeking mental health help. Still, people feel uncomfortable reaching out to professionals or others whom are close to them . I believe we need to get more practical and rethink avenues to help. The internet is the most viable avenue. It’s inherent design can reach mass audiences and still secure a sense of anonymity. Each of these features can solve getting around those major barriers in the way of seeking mental health care.

The Upside of Being Anonymous

Online communities like the sub-reddit r/mentalhealth provide a great platform for users to post anonymously about their issues and questions. I am relatively new to the page, but everything I have seen has been so emphatic and resourceful. The advice given in most circumstances is completely inline with best practice. What I think is the really special part is that the discussions still feel very human. So here is an example of a space where someone who may not want to reach out to those around them can vent and find resources to promote their mental well-being. While still feeling a sense of human contentedness.

This is one of the many reasons I am so excited for emerging technologies. If we force ourselves to reimagine how we think about and generate mental health, I believe we can help alleviate a lot of suffering. The safety of being anonymous online may lead some to engage in negative activities. Although, that very same sense of safety can be utilized to reach and communicate our deepest issues with one another.

Our avenues to help need to become less rigid and stigmatizing. The advantage of one’s online anonymity is a clear solution for mediating the stigma one feels when asking for mental health care. The issue then which still remains is pushing a perspective of our online environments to be genuine areas of connection and care. We should not diminish the less “formal” avenues of self-help or other tools to improve mental health. Rather, one should be encouraged to reach out within the proper communities for help, especially as a first step. Asking for help in this less stigmatizing manner may not only immediately benefit the individual, but also act to encourage further help-seeking behaviors.

The demand for online avenues toward help call not only for a change in perspective, but for new online tools and communities. As this dialogue unfolds further, it will be imperative to encourage novel ways to deliver mental health care. What is most important in this discussion is not to exclude avenues to help due to potential risks or it’s current standing issues. Rather, we should seek to mitigated the risks, and create a culture of mental health support in spite of them!

What are other ways we can add to or improve the internet’s ecosystem to create a more beneficial environment for mental health?