July 3rd, 2011
June 16th, 2011

Digital Mental Health - Social Media!

Continuing on with the theme of the week there is a powerful set of tools which if utilised correctly I think will be very beneficial to the treatment of mental health.

Most people have it in some form, others in many forms, but it offers a non confrontational way to speak to people about how you feel, or even communicate it in a non direct way, this tool is the joy that is social media.

While again never a replacement for professional support it is yet another tool that organisations and sufferers alike can utilise to benefit recovery from mental illness.

Be it twitter, Facebook, myspace or even YouTube these tools provide many people with a solid way to express their feelings, emotions and thoughts. If used in the right way organisations can set up services via these free networks to provide structured interventions for sufferers of a whole range of mental illnesses.

Using social media to promote recovery on a professional level is very much in it’s infancy, and something I have been looking at for a while now, that said, sufferers gave been using it for many a year to talk about how they are feeling, to give and receive peer support and to access health information.

Twitter is a brilliant solution, it works on usernames so there is anonymity should the user want it and although not a brilliant tool for direct communication and intense conversation it can be really good as a place to “vent” with no direct contact or intimidation. There are a lot of success stories with twitter being used to promote recovery, usually as a form of talking indirectly about their experiences, knowing that someone, somewhere will hear it.

Facebook on the other hand is a lot more personal so you could well lost the anonymity factor and works in a very different way to that of twitter, although it has the benefits of groups and group chats, which could well be used as a support forum in it’s own right, or as a conversation place for sufferers to talk about their problems and the solutions to them. I think the big advantage that Facebook has is the ability to create your own network of sorts, or even follow the organisations or people that help you.

YouTube cannot necessarily be used for support purposes, but for instance you could keep a video diary of your recovery progress, which I know a lot of people like to do, this in turn can benefit others who will watch your videos and could inspire them to try different recovery “tricks”.

The problem with all social media is of course moderation, most social media sites are largely unmoderated and this could pose an issue when we talk about exposure to triggers, the potential for so called cyber bullying and things such as pro anorexia sites and references. These are all risks which could well be out of the control of organisations considering of providing support using social media, so there has to be an element of control and responsibility on the part of the sufferer to assess whether this kind of network would be suitable for them.

YouTube is a particular example of risks, with many a triggering video on topics such as self harm and eating disorders, it does however, have lots of helpful recovery resources to draw from it. This is again a case of balancing the risk and the user being of a state of wellness that they are able to make decisions on safe access.

So while social media has it’s pros and cons it changes the way the conversation of mental health is being had, if anything making it more accessible to more people, for men this can be a great way to access information and advice, by organisations providing links on topics and giving information through their social media channels. It can also give more men the space to talk about thier issues with professionals and fellow sufferers.

To make a professional recovery tool using social media will be a challenge, but one I think could be achieved providing a safe environment can be made, but with the increase of digital technology being used, which is opening up access to men everywhere, it is making a very good start and a very positive impact on mental health in men.

June 15th, 2011

Men’s Health Week - Online Peer Support

With the digital theme of Men’s health week this year I made the promise to blog about digital intervention in mental illness, this one is all about peer support and the important role it can play online.

While no substitute for proper medical help, the internet can be used in conjunction to ease the isolation and sometimes secrecy found with mental illness. Anonymity I believe plays a big part in this, after all if no-one knows who the person is there is an air of safety for the user. 

Peer support is one such way to achieve this anonymous intervention with a unique twist, the support is provided by fellow sufferers. It offers people a fantastic network of people who are going through similar experiences or feelings and can help people to feel less isolated and often promotes people to seek professional medical help. I have always thought of peer support in two parts, you come into the peer support network, which gives you the strength to face your problem head on and seek help, and then many use these networks on-going to strengthen their support networks.

Peer support has a vital role in my opinion when dealing with mental health. It does, however, need to be monitored and moderated carefully to ensure it remains a safe environment for people to use.

For example, with eating disorders that affect men there is a particular level of secrecy and shame in admitting their disorder and coming forward to seek help. While we fight to break down that stigma it is incredibly important that existing sufferers are supported, the charity I help run Men Get Eating Disorders Too does such a thing.

We provide a forum to men at present, which gives men a safe space to express themselves and speak openly about their disorders and the complications surrounding them. It can be used to share experiences, positive coping strategies and almost enables men to support eachother through recovery.

We will be enhancing this in the near future with a live chat feature, to enable men to come and chat to other men, and the people that run the charity at set, sometimes themed sessions revolving around recovery, positive coping mechanisms and support.  We can enhance these live chats and improve their effectiveness by doing many things, including guest moderators who are specialists in different areas for example nutritionists, therapists and indeed people who have recovered from the very disorders we talk about.

With careful moderation and planning, peer support online can be a very powerful tool in aiding recovery from mental illness, when we speak about men this week, we look at the barriers that stop men from accessing services, one of the major ones is stigma. With this anonymous approach we can encourage men to engage on all levels about their health, which is what this week is all about. 

For some good examples of peer support in mental health check out…..

Men Get Eating Disorders Too Forum

National Self Harm Network Forum

June 14th, 2011

An Introduction to Men’s Health Week.

So this week see’s the annual event for Men everywhere, Men’s Health Week, which addresses the health needs of men, but why do we need a week dedicated to the health of men?

It is a long standing fact that men do not like to talk about their problems, whether it be relationships, lumps, bumps, emotions or feelings, they are all things that many men seem to feel reluctant to talk about. I have often wondered why that was, as I have on the whole always been fairly good at talking about myself and indeed any problems I have had rather openly, or so I thought.

As I started to dig deeper into my past, and really think about how open I was with people I started to surprise even myself, my mental health problems as a teenager, they must have started early and yet I kept them a secret for years, even when they were forced out I chose to ignore them. But why was this?

I was scared, afraid and worried, not of the problems themselves, but of how other people would see me, after all I didn’t want to be viewed as a just another “problem”. I think the one major issue I thought I faced at the time was to have people seeing me as “weak”, which is now officially a word I hate!

The point is I eventually started talking, and once I did it, it became a whole lot easier!

While the problems surrounding stigma are gender neutral and affect everyone, especially when we are talking about mental illness, if you couple this with the reluctance of discussion in men about health then you have a bigger problem.

For men to talk about their health problems, especially emotional ones can be seen to strip one of their masculinity, it’s largely not an accepted conversation to be had with a bunch of lads, I remember the first paragraph of a blog I wrote for an eating disorder recovery website, It strikes me as a rather true (although generalist) statement;

"Football, Rugby and beer, three things guaranteed to get a lot of men talking! But if I was to walk into that same room and bring up the subject of eating disorders, deathly silence. That silence would be followed by the usual assumptions that eating disorders are a “girl’s illness” and “oh that’s what model’s get”. So when it comes to getting help, are we so surprised that men just don’t come forward?"

Does it ring true to you, can you have a conversation about mental health with your group of mates?

While I accept it is not always the easiest conversation to have, it should be one that people can feel able to have with their mates. The debate about men and talking has sparked numerous campaigns supporting men’s health and trying to make health easier to talk about, which has worked to an extent in opening the dialogue between the health professional and the male, but not much has concentrated on engaging fellow men.

This is what Men’s health week is dedicated to, making sure that men feel able to speak about their issues, the theme this year is digital, looking at ways we can embrace the internet to improve outcomes amongst men.

So this week I am going to try and do a couple of blogs about the digital world and how it can be used to improve outcomes in men with mental health issues, while encouraging men to engage in conversation about their “feelings” and “emotions” using the charity I help run as an example, alongside others.

So do look out for my blogs on digital health and Men during the week and let’s see if we can get men talking!

April 29th, 2011

My first ever blog on the Keep Smilin’ website….. A little introduction to me, Men Get Eating Disorders Too and the issue of eating disorders that affect Men.

Have a read, let me know what you think and please let me know what you would like to see on my next post on Keep Smilin’