If the events of 2016 have told us anything, it’s that people can write any old rubbish and post it online as fact. And people will believe them. Especially if those people are vulnerable or anxious.
And no one is more vulnerable or anxious than when it comes to researching health concerns. The internet is our first port of call for any worry – but news articles can leave us feeling confused and worried about what research shows and evidence recommends. I wrote about this in relation to antidepressants in pregnancy here.
Hundreds of other articles identify our most vulnerable moments and use them to drive traffic to their advert loaded pages. If you’re struggling to conceive it’s hard to avoid clicking on an article entitled ‘Trying to get pregnant – 10 proven sperm killers!’
On the same search results page I found ‘10 things to do if you want to conceive’ and ’10 myths about trying to conceive’. They were basically the same and no one was any the wiser.
Reliable, balanced, current and evidence based information
The Information Standard’s recommended search hierarchy.
It’s really important that people have access to reliable, balanced, current and evidence-based health information. Which is where the Information Standard comes in. Any organisation achieving the Information Standard has undergone a rigorous assessment to check that their information production process generates high quality, evidence-based, balanced, user-led, clear and accurate quality information. Continue reading →
A few weeks ago had an internet date. Of sorts. Not a romantic first date (thank goodness) but a face-to-face meeting with someone I met online. Someone like me in lots of ways. Someone who could be a friend.
We knew a lot about each other’s vulnerabilities and fears before we set eyes on each other. And that made things much easier. The conversation could get right to the good stuff. We could be open and honest. We chatted about medication, work, diagnoses, panic attacks, weddings and how our dogs help with our mental health. Not really first date fodder.
It’s all down to our blogs. Claire writes WE’Re AlL mAd HeRe about social anxiety (she’s also been asked to write a book about anxiety based on her blog – wow). She got in touch a few months ago and suggested lunch. I’m so glad she did. Meeting inspiring new people is just one of the things that blogging has done for me.
I’ve had a number of readers get in touch with me recently about starting a mental health blog – overcoming those demons of uncertainty that whisper ‘what’s the point, who cares what I have to say?’
I know the feeling – I have it about writing fiction. But I thought I’d share a little about what blogging has done for me – and a few things that helped me get started. Continue reading →
Stage 1 – Online and face to face workshops with young people
“I’ve honestly literally never spoken about my experience with anyone since I left sixth form, this is the first (and possibly last) time – but I’m happy that I’m using it to hopefully help others”
I was recently approached by the Miscarriage Association to help them research and develop youth friendly online (and possibly offline) resources. Young peoples’ voices are missing and their needs are not being fully met by the Miscarriage Association’s current offering. But before we decided what to develop, we needed to do some research to find out a bit more about what young people were experiencing, what they want and – most importantly – why they want it.
Knowing WHY helps us get a deeper understanding of the need. Knowing that a young person wants online videos is one thing, knowing that they want them because they feel alone in their experience and want something to help reduce this isolation is much richer information. If we know this, we are in a position to find the very best way to meet this need.
Our hope was that the young people we worked with in this research phase would become engaged enough to stay involved and work with us through the development phases too.
Working in partnership
Our first step was to approach Brook. We’d identified that they had little online information about miscarriage and knew that for many young people Brook would be the first port of call when they needed help with pregnancy loss. Brook are redeveloping their website and resources so it made sense to work in partnership to share learning and ensure that young people were supported at every stage of their support-seeking journey. Continue reading →
A review of Crazy by Amy Reed – published by Simon and Schuster
It’s hard to truly imagine what depression or bipolar disorder is actually like. The language of mental health is woefully inadequate. The word ‘depression’ has become part of the spectrum of everyday language used to describe feeling sad. We’ve all said or heard it. “My team lost, I’m so depressed” or “God, this TV programme is so depressing”. As a result it becomes harder to find the words to adequately distinguish between natural sadness and the entirely different experience of a chemically depressed mind.
Someone without diagnosed depression might fail to understand why those who have can’t ‘just cheer up’. Those who are ill might judge themselves a failure for feeling unnaturally sad or incapable. A greater linguistic distinction would be helpful.
But even if the words depression, mania, OCD or psychosis were only ever used to describe specific conditions, they still don’t explain what it actually feels like. That’s where stories can play an important role.
Reed’s ‘Crazy’ is one of those stories. It explores a mental health crisis through the eyes of those experiencing it. Told in a modern epistolary style through emails and instant messages between two teenagers, it has an immediacy and deeply personal feel that works well with the subject matter. After meeting at camp, Izzy and Connor start exchanging emails and chatting online. It soon becomes clear that something isn’t right. Izzy’s highs are too high and her lows are scary and dangerous. Continue reading →
Just before Christmas I wrote a piece for the Guardian on why I volunteer at Christmas. It was a personal explanation of my motivation to volunteer, why I’ve continued to do so since leaving YouthNet and why it’s particularly important at Christmas.
It was one of a series on Christmas volunteering. It was the only one about online or virtual volunteering. I’m glad it was represented – I’ve managed online volunteers for many years and have seen it becoming increasingly popular, especially in support work. I wanted to explain in a bit more detail how it can have as much, if not more, impact as your more traditional face to face volunteering.
A more detailed description of what running a live support chat is actually like can be found here. Here’s some more info on the volunteer role I managed for five years – online peer advisors. If you’d like to chat support volunteering, virtual volunteering, training volunteers and giving peer support online, drop me a line.
Now I’m off to open up TheSite.org chat room for another Sunday support session.
The aim of The Site.org content is to provide clear, straight talking and supportive information for young people. Articles respond to questions young people search for and help them to understand their situation and options.
Trouble getting help for mental health
This article helps young people who have taken steps towards accessing support but have struggled to get the help they need. This might be because their GP didn’t respond how they had hoped; they have been referred but haven’t yet heard anything; counselling didn’t work or they didn’t like their therapist.
It aims to give reassurance, emotional support and practical solutions.
Accessing your GP can be a struggle. All too often young people fall through the gaps. This was obvious every day in the work I did in YouthNet’s Engagement and Support team on overcoming barriers to support. I hope that articles like this one and services such as Doc Ready will help young people feel more able to get the help they deserve from mental health services.
I’m really really pleased with this piece. There’s a bright future in front of you. Any writer who can follow a brief is worth their weight in gold!
Holly Thompson – TheSite.org Editorial Team
This article gives an overview of the types of online counselling available for young people. It also gives them the information to help them decide if it is right for them. It includes information on online self-help services (both open and prescribed) and one to one counselling support online. It also looks at where and how it is accessed and how to tell if a service is reputable.
Exchanging letters is a wonderful way of making and cementing a bond. You share a little bit of yourself on paper and then give that unique incidence of it away to someone else. There were no ‘sent mail’ folder or saved files back then.
From one meeting (and exchange of postal addresses) on a boat when we were 7 or 8, a friendship grew in letters that survived well into our teenage years, through cross country visits to each others houses and now to brunches in London as we approach our thirties.
Arranging to meet this weekend has necessitated the use of faster forms of communication and it was in an email this week that Bee told me she still had all of my old letters. I’m excited and a little nervous about reading them.
I expect that they will take me right back to the time when I was writing them (dotting the i’s with stars or smiley faces of course), drawing in the margins, writing the address (I can still almost remember it now) and putting them in the postbox across the road from the bus stop. Not just the details of life aged twelve, but back into a sense of what it felt like to be me when I wrote them. Luckily, we were writing before the particularly difficult mental health years kicked in so I don’t expect them to be painful reading – but I expect the physical reality of a letter, the feel of the paper, the biro scored into it and the handwriting upon to make it clearly from another place, another time and another ‘self’. Continue reading →
I’ve always used writing to know and to guide my mind in one way or another. Usually, this has taken the form of a diary or journal. In thinking about the part that writing has played in managing my mind, I had an interesting evening going through my old diaries and notebooks. The entries were initially quite amusing and nothing but a day by day record of what went on.
‘’Today Richard got his new high chair it was white with blue stripes and the seat dad got was the same pattern with frills round the edge and mum said she didn’t like it. Me and Paul might be able to have the box” (3rd Feb 1992)
“I dumped Simon today. He practically ignored me all the time. I did it nicely. I haven’t seen him since I did as he is in a different technology group. Had lots of fun second lesson of technology”(28th March 1996)
However, it wasn’t long until they became more difficult to read. This still one causes me pain, and shame at how I treated my parents when I was down.
“Mum says if I treated my friends like I treated my family, I wouldn’t have any. Why do I have such twisted anger and tension in me I have to take it out on people and get in moods” (1999)
There is no foolproof formula for successful online support. Using the written word to ensure someone 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)
TheSite.org has published editorialised true stories for years. These stories enabled us to give a 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 →