Category Archives: Online support & communities

Wilderness, jungle or ecosystem? Does the language often used to talk about ‘online’ encourage unhelpful assumptions and distinctions?

The power of language

Language is a powerful tool. I’ve written before about the value of metaphor in mental health tweetsupport and how it can reframe and change perception as well as helping people understand subjective experience. Language is also a tricky thing – the way we frame things in words can influence how we think about them and what assumptions we make about what they describe.

‘Young People in the Internet Wilderness: A Psychological Time-Bomb?

I found myself thinking a lot about language last week while at a joint Young Minds and ACAMH conference. Since appearing in my inbox, the title of the conference had intrigued me. It was called ‘Young People in the Internet Wilderness: A Psychological Time-Bomb? What CAMH professionals and service providers need to know to respond effectively’. The language used seemed to convey quite a negative view of how young people experience online spaces and I was interested to see whether this was a realistic interpretation of the conference organisers viewpoint, or just a catchy title to draw people in. As a massive advocate of online peer support, I also wondered why a workshop on the subject was called ‘Why online support is so popular and why it isn’t always bad’. Why not call it ‘The increasing popularity and benefits of online support’?. Continue reading

Who’s in agony? – problem pages today and through history

Teen magazine problem pages

I recently had reason to remember a scene from my childhood – my friend Jess and I in a tent prob pagein a field, surrounded by old copies of teen magazines, reading the problem pages with a strange mix of awe and derision. There was the frisson of excitement caused by the ‘sex and relationship’ problems – aged 12 or so, the whole ‘sex thing’ was still pretty adult and mysterious in practice. This was combined with the certainty that, despite our lack of knowledge, we wouldn’t ever be so stupid as, for example our favourite, the couple we read about who used a crisp packet as a condom. The problems, not the answers were the most interesting to us, and we always turned straight to the problem pages.

 

Published in Bliss magazine

Last week, I was published in Bliss magazine, approached in my role as Advice and Training Manager working on TheSite.org. Not on the problem pages themselves but on a page which approached various holiday issues by posing questions “HELP! …….” and then asking various experts to answer them. Continue reading

The Elephant in the online community – mental health peer support for adults

Online peer support for mental health at Mind

Yesterday I attended a session run by Mind on online peer support – helping users of the eleElephant (in the room)’ community on Facebook develop their skills in supporting each other. I was interested in attending as I had been chatting to Eve, one of the trainers (and ‘Elephant handlers’) on Twitter. The work they are doing has lots of links to similar work I am doing – and developing – at YouthNet on TheSite.org.

I was also interested from a more personal angle. I was hoping to find out more about the peer support services for mental health which are offered, not just to young people, but to everyone. I’ve certainly found that in writing about my own experiences with mental health, others have come forward to share their experiences and discuss the issues with me. I’m impressed by the strategic objective of Mind to give everyone access to peer support, on or offline, by 2016. The session itself only highlighted the value of peer support, with everyone sharing their stories and offering new perspectives and ideas to each other throughout the training day. It was also interesting that there was a strong sense in the room that, while young people tend to be well served, there is not enough emotional support online for mental health for adults. Continue reading

Essential skills for giving online peer support – a course in development.

The essential skills advisors and peer supporters need for giving advice, information or support online

These are some of the basic skills that supporters and advisors find useful when working young people on keyboard onlineonline. The support offered might be one to one (email style), peer or expert support, moderating forums or moderating real time chat. Depending on the type of support being offered I’ve emphasised certain areas or added additional advanced skills to my training. This training tends to be offered to people who are taking on a specific supporter role, rather than individuals who are part of the community. With adjustments, it can also be offered to community members to help them look after themselves and get more out of their experience online. Continue reading

Giving help that makes a difference – the subtleties of emotional support online

A question of jealousy

Take a look at this relationships question about jealousy:

“I’m always worried my boyfriend is going to cheat on me when he’s out with his friends. I’m always texting him when he’s out and it annoys him but I have no confidence that he won’t cheat. We live together and have been together for nearly two years. I can’t help thinking ‘what if?’ even tho he says he has never cheated. I can just imagine that in the future he’ll decide he’s had enough and I will lose him. I really don’t want that. I’m pushing him away, I don’t want to but I am. Help me.”

How would you go about writing an answer?

Photo by Alyssa L Miller 

Photo by Alyssa L Miller

 

At the moment, I’m thinking a lot about the skills needed for peer support online – whether that be in mental health, relationships or other areas of support. You can have a look at a slideshow I did at a conference in Antwerp about using the web to provide peer support for emotional health and wellbeing here. Continue reading

Metaphor, mental health and online support.

What is successful online support?

There is no foolproof formula for successful online support.  Using the written word to ensure Watson black dogsomeone feels listened to, understood, informed and positive about their next steps is a complex and varied task.

As with any inexact science it’s much easier to identify when something is done right. It’s a lot harder to teach how it is done. As a result I’m always interested in identifying and exploring in more depth what it is about successful support that makes the real difference. What is it that makes someone respond like this?

I would just like to say thank you so much as i feel its basically saved my life. The people who reply should be so proud to be able to have that effect on someone like myself who feels there’s no way out of this hell. After receiving my reply i have now realised there is and i now have the courage to get help. Thank you so so so so so much! you’ll never know what you’ve done for me, you’ve saved my life!” (askTheSite feedback)

My previous blog post explored stories and writing and their role in support. Stories and creative writing about experiences create a great vehicle for metaphor and simile. These are really valuable tools in supporting those who are struggling, particularly with mental health and particularly online.  In this piece I hope to explore why. Continue reading

The role of stories and writing in support for young people.

True stories online

TheSite.org has published editorialised true stories for years. These stories enabled us to give atrue-stories more personal angle to some of the issues we were addressing in articles, and to cover other more ‘newsy’ issues. The range of stories reflects the range of issues addressed on TheSite.org, from selling sex or coming off heroin to taking part in the student protests or waiting for a new heart. For the people involved, it is a chance to share or celebrate their experiences, perhaps to gain some perspective and to help others understand the issue they faced.

These kind of true stories on TheSite.org fall into the remit of the editorial team. Those who want to share their experience, or those we approach, tell their story to a journalist who then writes it up in the style of TheSite.org. Interestingly, we recently did some work with Radio 1’s Sunday Surgery ‘Sexuality Night’, providing support for their listeners on the Radio 1 Facebook page. We shared a range of relevant content from TheSite.org, but it was the true stories (namely ‘How I came out as bi’ and ‘The naked truth of asexuality’) which received the most views, shares and likes. Continue reading

If xLy iff yLx is true, then x cannot stop loving y unless y also stops loving x … thoughts on relationships advising and philosophy

Earlier on this week I rediscovered a website called askphilosophers.org. It’s a question and answer service where people post questions which are answered publicly by philosophers. All the sections are pretty interesting (check out the environmental philosophy section) but particularly relevant to us who work on askTheSite was the section on love and emotions.

There was a really interesting mix of some of the sorts of questions we would get in the Relationships section of askTheSite

(‘Can a guy REALLY love you if he comments on other girls saying that they’re cute?’), to questions that took a step back and saw the issue in terms of a more general dilemma (‘If, within a marriage, one partner denies the other sex, can they morally still demand that the other refrain?’).

Where can young people ask philosophical questions?

In my previous job I was once asked a question about the meaning of life. It wasn’t phrased quite like that, but in essence that was what the question was. It went something along the lines of ‘I’m not suicidal, but I keep thinking that, when I die, my family and friends will be sad for a while, but then they will get on with their lives, and they will die and it will be as if I had never existed at all. I just don’t see the point’. The user was concerned about this question to the extent that she felt the need to write into a helpline to help her find meaning in her life. But where else could she talk about these issues? Possibly askphilosophers.org?  Patrick and I were thinking about whether we should have a section in askTheSite for more general religious and philosophical questions – young people come up against these all the time but don’t really have a young person orientated forum in which to ask them. Continue reading

Overcoming barriers and taking steps to support – why we’re developing services on TheSite.org

The notion of barriers to support is a common one in information, advice and guidance, but the particular way it is informing the new Step Finder project we’re working on grew organically out of our teams work.

Personal and practical barriers

For example on the discussion boards we’ve seen questions about how to call Samaritansstepswhat actually happens when you pick up the phone? What do you say? What do they say? How do you stop yourself from panicking – or being overheard?. Similarly people have told us how they have been given the details for a walk in centre, but don’t know what to do when they get there – ‘Do I just walk in?’. Sometimes, a bad experience in the past can be a barrier – ‘Oh, I’ve tried going to my GP, they don’t help’ or even ‘I’m scared of the receptionist at the surgery’. Lack of self esteem or confidence can really affect someones ability to follow the guidance or signposting they are given – ‘I’ve got the information on how to get help, but I’m too shy to actually talk to anyone’. The barriers individuals face are often very personal to their situation. Continue reading

Using the web to provide peer support for emotional health and wellbeing

This is a write up of my thoughts, experience and findings from the In Petto conference  ‘Exploring Online Peer to Peer Support’ in Antwerp. I attended this, along with a volunteer peer advisor last November.

Structures and systems for providing online peer support.

At the conference we were focusing in more depth on peer support and how this could be given online.  Before giving our own workshop, we heard from a range of other organisations, each with quite different ways of offering peer support online. Continue reading