10 Tips About Mental Health Vulnerability Online
One question I get asked really regularly is about sharing my emotional/mental health struggles online. Having just written a book with the subtitle, “Discovering the confidence to lead with vulnerability.” I guess its not surprising! The thing about vulnerability is that it’s not about being a ‘bleeding heart in the public square.’ Oversharing isn’t healthy vulnerability, it’s a damaging way of manipulating other people’s emotions towards us. This is the difference between ‘being vulnerable’ and ‘using vulnerability’.
The first thing I always ask myself when I am posting something personal online is, “What am I trying to do here?” If I am using vulnerability, the answer could be more direct: 'I want sympathy, I want attention, I want acclaim.' In my experience oversharing nearly always results from an ‘I want’.
If I am being healthily vulnerable the answer to that question isn’t nearly so stark. It may be as simple as ‘I’m just being me’ or ‘I am trying to model something’ or ‘I am trying to help people who may be in a similar situation.’ I would say pretty much without exception that nothing good has ever come out of me oversharing online, inversely I know the my ‘being vulnerable’ has been helpful to myself and others. Even when your intentions are good, posting about your own mental health online carries its own pressures and risks. Over the last 14 years I have made quite a few mistakes and learnt a few hard lessons. Here are a few of my top tips (not forgetting all of the usual guidelines about staying safe online.)
1.The web is not a safe relationship
The web is no substitute for deep interpersonal relationships. Avoid using it like a trusted friend. Its opinions and reactions to you will not all be positive, helpful or honest. I always make sure that what I am sharing online is a lesser version of what I am sharing with my friends and family, that way I tend to keep the balance right.
2.Don't post too soon
I give things 2/3 months between experience and sharing. When you are struggling with emotional health issues (unless you are posting directly to a message board for support) it doesn’t help to over-expose yourself. Sharing a real time journey can put your recovery at risk and put you under unnecessary pressure.
3.Reflect on your own journey
Reflect don’t dictate. Everyone’s emotional healthy journey is different, but we can easily become dogmatic about the things that have helped us. The most helpful thing we can offer others are reflections about our journey and what has helped us, always keeping the space open to other people’s ideas and experiences.
4.Don't post angry
Don’t post angry. I once gave an interview when I was angry about something I though was unjust. Unfortunately, despite being diplomatic the article still carried a tone that I regretted. If I am ever tempted to post something when I am feeling quite emotional, I save it in drafts and review it after 24hrs. If it still feels right, I post it, if not I revise/delete. (I am so thankful for this rule!)
5.Don't surprise the people you love
Don’t surprise the people you love. No body wants to find out that their daughter or husband or mother was having an emotional health crisis through Facebook. Be sure to share your story with the people you love before you post because you can be certain that what you post will end up on their home screen soon enough.
6.Take care with advice on medications
Be careful about offering details about any medications you may be using. It can be helpful to talk about using medications under your doctors guidance, but because everyone reacts differently to medications, your ‘wonder drug’ might not be suitable for the people who are reading your post. It is best to say, ‘You may want to explore the range of medications available for this issue with your GP or psychiatrist.’
7.There will be haters
Be prepared for unpleasant reactions/responses. Over the years I have had some really tough reactions to articles I have written. Often they have questioned the strength of my faith or just made negative personal remakes. Just because you get a negative reaction, it doesn’t mean you should change the article, react to the challenger or overthink their negativity. Equally, ask yourself if there is anything in the feedback you should note, if not then just give it to Jesus and move on with your day.
8.Signpost to great support
Signpost respondents to places where they can get further help. It is really important that you don’t become a substitute for a person’s doctor or healthcare provider. At times it can be really helpful to say, ‘I don’t think I can help you any further but I would really recommend that you see your GP to talk this through/see this charity website/Call this helpline etc.’
9.Take a break if it gets overwhelming
Take a break. Most of us who spend quite a bit of time online around emotional/mental health need to take a break from time to time. You may have seen some of your favourite bloggers do this and it is really good practice. Never feel that you ‘have to post’ because of the people who follow you online. If you are going to be a help to others over the long haul then make sure that you give yourself space to attend to your own wellbeing.
10.Show them we are more than a diagnosis
We all have the power to play a part in breaking down mental health stigma. Stigma is sometimes propagated around mental health because people lose sight of the real people we are. Don’t forget to show the web that you have a sense of humour, interests and gifts that are very much alive alongside your emotional/mental health struggles. That way they may change their mind about people with mental health issues, or even be more open to seeing their own struggles.