I was diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) several years ago, and despite being proactive in treating it, I am still bent by its weight. I find solace in a few key places: at home with my husband and dog, in my therapist’s office, alone in nature, during peer support meetings — and online.
Because I was initially too ashamed and fearful to talk about my feelings with anyone in person, I actually turned to online spaces first for support. Since then, Facebook groups in particular have been a boon for my mental health.
In this, I’m not alone; for many battling depression and other mental illness, social networking sites are the only place they feel understood. According to 2012 figures released by the National Cancer Institute, online peer-to-peer support for depression was used by an estimated 7.5 million adults in the United States. And a 2010 PEW survey found that 25% of internet users who have a chronic health condition go online to connect with other people who have the same health issues.
For many battling depression and other mental illness, social networking sites are the only place they feel understood.
Critically, the internet can be used as a tool to subvert mental-health stigmas that remain pervasive; online, people can disclose things about themselves but still be protected by a cloak of relative anonymity. Online groups can also be particularly helpful for trauma survivors, who tend to isolate in an attempt to hold onto a shred of personal agency. The internet keeps the door to the outside world ajar just enough to make it possible for help to sneak through.
I have lived through suicidal ideation and urges, and the only place I was honest about it was online. I encountered people who told me that, even if I didn’t believe it, I could feel better someday. They told me to hold onto a sliver of hope, and in my darkest hours, this was my saving grace.
But not everyone is so lucky. Hope is not what we always find.