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I was talking to my psychiatrist about my how I socially isolate and he said that he knew people frequently disregarded social media as a place to build real relationships because there is the tendency for people to be inauthentic on social media – only presenting their good side. But he suggested that for people with a mental illness it could be the difference between interacting and not interacting with people. I know for me, the majority of the time, I am in a room by myself writing, reading, or participating on social media.

When I was first diagnosed with a mental illness back in the 90’s the Internet was just starting to be popular and it was very expensive (you paid by the hour for services like AOL), it was dial-up and very slow compared to today.  Businesses were just starting to build websites and people communicated in chat rooms.

I’ve lived with a severe mental illness for over two decades and in that time I have seen the opportunities for people with all kinds of mental health issues explode on the Internet.  Here are fourteen of the most obvious ways that the mental health community can benefit from the Internet.

  1. You can email your doctor
  2. You can keep a blog to document your history (to share with a therapist or psychiatrist)
  3. You can track your symptoms
  4. You may be able to discover what triggers your symptoms
  5. You can write down your daily thoughts in order to help you with your memory later
  6. You can make friends
  7. You can communicate with others
  8. You can join a support group
  9. You can use it to network
  10. You can help others
  11. You can develop your creativity (photography, art, writing)
  12. You may be able to find work
  13. You can take classes or earn a degree
  14. You can educate yourself about your illness, or current affairs, or almost anything

These are the most obvious benefits that wide use of the Internet has brought to people with mental illnesses who may be isolated socially. I have used the Internet in all of these ways, and I am comfortable saying that the Internet has improved the quality of my life tremendously and afforded me opportunities I wouldn’t be able to handle otherwise. I am currently working toward a certificate in creative nonfiction from a great school (UCLA), I am working at developing a career as a writer, I am networking with other writers, I communicate with people from all over the world, and I read stories and news daily.

Many people see the negative side of having computers be such a big part of our lives, but I would say for the mentally ill and the mental health community, it has opened so many doors that may have been impossible twenty years ago.

It may be true that many people are not authentic on social media and those relationships often lack depth, truth and meaning, but I think if you pan for the gold that is among the rocks and sand you are bound to find it. I’ve found it, chunks of it are everywhere.