“ / Type: Mental Health „
The Internet has opened up so many possibilities in our lives, and has changed the way we do things in so many ways! Of course not all of these changes are good, but it is undeniable that the Internet can provide a source of support for people affected by mental health problems and not just mental health problems, the Internet can help anyone!
Cybertherapy is quite a broad term, and I will start this article by talking about my personal experiences of how I have used the Internet to improve my own mental health. To give a brief bit of history, I first became depressed back around 1997 when I was 15. At that time I also started self-injuring as a way to deal with the emotional turmoil I was going through. Although I had friends around me, I felt so lonely and isolated. All this changed when I got to University in 1999 and started to use the Internet.
I became a member of a Yahoo depression group, and this really changed me life. For the first time I no longer felt alone, and I had people to talk to who really understood how I felt, and where I was coming from. I am not saying it was all good though, I soon became a moderator of the group and started to feel personally responsible for the other members, and lost sleep worrying about people. However, on the whole it was such a positive experience for me.
I completed my undergraduate dissertation which was entitled "How far can the Internet be of use to those suffering from depressive illnesses". I had around 300 participants in my research, and the results were clear the Internet helped people in so many ways. Of course there were groups like the one I mentioned, also one-on-one talking on messenger, but then there were other ways. The Internet gave people information about depression, about treatment, and gave people ideas about self-help (including alternative therapies). It also provided distraction techniques, and occupied people's time.
The depression group really began my online journey. I became a trustee of an Internet based charity called LifeSIGNS (Self-Injury Guidance and Network Support) - which I came across on the net one day. For 2 years I helped to moderate the messageboard. As a charity we provide information about self-injury among other services. The peer support for people who self-injure is invaluable, and from research I have done I know how much people value it. At this point in time I cannot promote the website which is outside of the trustees' control, and the charity is currently undergoing some changes.
There are some potentially dangerous websites, for instance those which include graphic images of injuries. However, an excellent site for self-injury is www.scar-tissue.net - from here you can find 2 well-moderated messageboards - one for people who self-injure and one for healthcare professionals, relatives and educational professionals etc.
I must note here that websites are NOT a substitute for 'proper' medical care. Message boards are usually run by volunteers who have personal experience of self-injury and not medical professionals. The ones I have been involved with always encourage members to seek help from their doctors, and to seek 'real-life' therapy in order to deal with how they are feeling.
My main point here is that the Internet can be extremely valuable for people affected by any mental health problem (I have only used self-injury as an example as I am trying to incorporate my personal experience). However, it is not a substitute for other forms of help. And it is VITAL to remember that there is some bad information online as well, so please be careful. This is especially the case where eating disorders are concerned - there has been much media attention about 'pro-ana' websites. Reliable and safe information about eating disorders can be found here - www.b-eat.co.uk
Increasingly there is a new type of Cybertherapy - this is 'proper' therapy which is endorsed by medical professionals. In the US particularly (but also in the UK), some counsellors work online, and can see' patients in this way. This type of cybertherapy can be useful for those who feel isolated, have difficulty getting out of the house, or do not like face-to-face contact. Some therapy is free, so this can be beneficial to those who can't afford private therapy. Often therapists in 'real-life' are also available to their clients outside of hours via e-mail which can in some cases enhance the counselling experience.
In the UK there is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) available online, some of which is open to all, but some must be prescribed by doctors. I have copied the links here (I have taken them from www.rcpsych.ac.uk):
Mood Gym: moodgym.anu.edu.au Information, quizzes, games and skills training to help prevent depression
Living Life to the Full: www.livinglifetothefull.com Free online life skills course for people feeling distressed and their carers. Helps you understand why you feels as you do and make changes in your thinking, activities, sleep and relationships. I have recently signed up for this myself and am working my way through the course - although it is not perfect by any means, I am finding it a useful resource to understand more about myself and deal with negative thinking.
Fear Fighter: www.fearfighter.com (free access can only be prescribed by your doctor in England and Wales)
This therapy has been considered to be extremely useful for those affected by mild to moderate depression. This is certainly an area growing in popularity, and I look forward to seeing it develop (possibly in self-injury help). For one, people don't have to be on waiting lists. It is also cheap as does not necessarily involve therapists.
I feel that cybertherapy is a really exciting development in the treatment of mental health problems. It means that people can get help in their own time, and on their own terms. However, I would always advise people who think that they might have a mental health problem to speak to their doctor. Self-diagnosis is NEVER a good idea, and at the end of the day while cybertherapy does have many advantages, there is no real substitute for traditional therapies involving face-to-face contact. For severe and long-lasting (chronic) illnesses, medication will often be required. Everyone deserves health and happiness, so if you are suffering, please do get the help you need and deserve.
If you are in crisis and do not feel able to talk to someone at this time you might find it helpful to e-mail the Samaritans - firstname.lastname@example.org They will reply within 24 hours. However, if you are in immediate danger please phone them on 08457 909090 or get to A & E as soon as possible.
I hope that this article has been useful to anyone considering different types of therapy.
Originally published on Helium as marymoose99.
Online therapy for sufferers of a broad range of anxiety and depressive problems.