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Thursday, April 14, 2011

Healthy Blogging

Question: My 15 year old brother has depression and anxiety.  He goes to therapy once a week and is on medication.  The reason why I am writing to you is that he always tells everybody about all of his moods.  He blogs about it and always says how he’s feeling on Facebook.  It’s really embarrassing for me, but he says that it makes him feel better.  I don’t want to stop him if it really is good for him, but how do I know that?
                                                                   -Joshua Landers, Kew Gardens, NY

Answer: Blogging and talking online about personal and general mental health issues has become increasingly common.  The reason why is because it provides an outlet for people to express their feelings and “get it off their chest”.  It is a valuable tool that has helped many people cope with otherwise overwhelming feelings and situations.  Additionally, finding like-minded people online often helps people deal with the stigma surrounding mental illness.
If your brother says that blogging and talking online is helping him; then it probably is.  The stigma surrounding mental illness is not limited to the person with the diagnosis but also often includes family and friends.  It sounds like at this point your brother is more comfortable with discussing mental illness than you are.  This is not surprising when you consider that he is receiving more support than you are.  I would recommend trying out a family support group in your area.  National Alliance onMental Illness (NAMI), Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA), and many other local community and religious organizations have these groups that help family members cope with and support someone living with a mental illness.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Online Advice

Question: Sometimes when I am going through a rough time I go online and describe my situation on Yahoo Answers and other people give me all kinds of advice.  How do I figure out who to listen to?

Answer: The online world has put a wealth of information about mental health right at our fingertips.  Many people appreciate this because it provides an easy and anonymous way to learn more about a condition.  This would be a great thing, if not for two important considerations. 

1) A lot of online information comes from unreliable sources.  For example, Yahoo Answers is essentially a forum where anyone can give you advice on what they think would be a good solution for your situation. 

2) While mental illness can appear to be almost identical in two people, it almost never is.  The nature of mental illness includes a large component that has to do with each person’s individual social and environmental history.  This is important because when someone online says “I have been there and this is what worked for me”, that person’s similar “sounding” experience may have little relevance to yours. 

A good source of basic information about mental illness is the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).   

However, as I always emphasize in this column, if you think you may need help it is always best to get evaluated by a professional.  That way you are speaking to someone qualified to address any issues and with enough personal information about you to make an informed recommendation.