- a mental health guide
What to hear
of stories from a psychiatric ward? Or learn about the life of a
33 year old diagnosed with personality disorder? Or a father's perspective
of caring for a son diagnosed with schizophrenia? Adam James
examines mental health blogs.
reflections, anecdotes from daily life and debate…as well
as pain. Welcome to mental health blogs, online journals (or web
logs) where anyone with access to a computer can upload their thoughts
- be they insightful, distressing or plain drivel – for the
world's billions to read.
began in earnest in 1999. Now it’s a self-publishing phenomenon
and the internet is rife with blogs, whose quality and purpose varies.
There's the excruciatingly banal (such as a woman posting pictures
of daffodils blooming in her back yard at willa.com)
and there’s the heavyweight (such as BBC political editor
Nick Robinson discussing Gordon Brown at bbc.co.uk/blogs/nickrobinson).
Eager not to miss a trick, brands, such as Nike, have launched corporate
for mental health blogs, they are as varied. There’s the torturous
despair of an American woman “trapped within the dark, surreal
realm of mental illness” who’s considering having a
form of brain nerve stimulation to treat her depression (themassdefective.blogspot.com).
Of a contrasting genre is university professor Peter Beresford’s
Beresford reflects on social policy and, for example, criticises
the Disability Rights Commission for its use of the phrase “you
must be crazy” in one of its campaigns). One polemical blog,
regularly posts a collection of “stories about psychiatric
screwups”, such as that of a forensic psychiatrist at Strangeways
Prison, Manchester, who in May allegedly dumped hundreds of confidential
statements from victims of sex attacks and child abuse in a public
rubbish bin in Bradford.
blogger has their own reason for sending out that first online “post”.
But, of the hundreds of blogs by people struggling with a mental
health diagnosis, one prevalent reason is that blogging helps achieve
catharsis. Blogging allows the sharing of thoughts and experiences
while residing in the comfort of anonymity. Many bloggers are, therefore,
startlingly candid. “All I've done for the last 20 years is
to let people down, to let myself down," blogs “Scott”
a nurse from Florida in America at butterflies-and-bruises.blogspot.com.
thought that I was really making headway with progressing from those
awful, destructive behaviors. Now, I don't know. After talking I
can't shake this feeling of failure. I will pray on it and sleep
on it. I will surrender these feelings of doom and gloom to my Higher
Power. I can't handle it. I can't handle it. I can't handle it…I
can't handle it. I can't handle it. I can't handle it.” Hard
words to read, hard words to write. But Beresford, who has himself
experienced depression and anxiety, recognises this therapeutic
benefit of blogging : “The more things are out in the open,
the better it often is. One of the most awful things about distress
is that you may feel [because of stigma] that you can not talk about
it,” he says.
New Zealand 33-year-old blogger diagnosed with personality disorder
explains that she started to blog after a suicide attempt. “I
needed to express myself, and I needed to let people know about
the despair I often felt. I had few friends and support in real
life, and so I turned to the online community.”
Mike, the father of a 26-year-old man diagnosed with schizophrenia,
started blogging (mindriddles.blogspot.com)
following his own “nervous breakdown”. “For me
my blog was intentional therapy to get out some of the emotion,”
for blogs by mental health professionals, these are conspicuously
sparse. This is largely likely to be due to the fact that employers
– private or public sector - would object. However, such blogs
do exist. One of the longest running is mentalnurse.org.uk,
a humorous and sometimes irreverent blog by a mental health nurse.
It details his life, from the mundane to the upsetting. In one post
“Mentalnurse” described when John, a patient, committed
suicide by hanging himself on a ward. Mentalnurse was actually John’s
key nurse and so shares his feelings over the tragedy. But Mentalnurse
remains attentive not to give too much away. For example, he describes
the suicide as occurring in a “busy acute ward in a distant
part of the country.” In a similar bid to disguise his employers,
when in another job, he named the ward in which he worked as “Swamplands”
and his not-for-profit employers “The Brotherhood”
bloggers who do use real names have to be careful over what they
write. In theory, anyone who publishes a blog could be sued for
libel. This is something that the bigger media companies (such as
Emap which hosts Beresford’s blog) will be all to aware of.
In March, Michael Keith-Smith, a Ukip candidate in Portsmouth North
at the last election sued a woman who, on a Yahoo message board,
falsely labeled him a "Nazi", a "racist bigot"
and a "nonce". Tracy Williams, a college lecturer from
Oldham, was ordered to pay £10,000 in damages. It’s
warning shot for any mental health blogger pondering about whether
to publish derogatory or insulting words aimed at a professional,
colleague or service user.
because blogs allow readers to post their own comments, they can
quickly generate close-knit online communities. For example, one
reader of mindriddles.blogspot.com ended up interviewing Mike and
his family for a book she was writing. She also offered them use
of her house in Spain for four months. Another introduced the family
to how the new direct payments system of healthcare might benefit
Mike’s son. “We’ve met some wonderful other carers
from the blog. It’s also been useful because readers have
helped us to find out what is available in the [mental health] service,”
even if a blogger is anonymous, the more detail a blogger provides
the higher the risk they’ll be identified. For example, although
Mike decided to conceal his identity when he started blogging in
February 2004, word soon got about that he was blogging. First his
extended family knew and then his son’s key care worker, and
they all tracked down Mike’s blog. Mike now as to bear in
mind such readers when blogging.
for those who start blogging for cathartic reasons may find that,
if their blog’s popularity grows, so a sense of “duty”
to keeping posting entries increases. This applies especially if
a blog is well read. Mike, for example, admits his blog as “kind
of become a job”. “This is because I know other people
read it readily. It’s less of a therapeutic thing now.”
Want to blog?
If you want free and easy, there’s blogger.com
(part of the google empire). It takes all of five minutes to set
up your own blog using a choice of six or so design templates. Just
give yourself a username, password and the name of your blog. You
can upload pictures, delete comments, posts, add links etc. Your
blog, hosted by blogger.com, will automatically be included in google’s
ever more popular blog search. For the more tech-savvy http://wordpress.org
enables you to design your own blog and host it on your own website.
For a tailor-made blog, expect to pay a professional web designer
up to £600.
“Up the Down Escalator: Life of a husband caring for his schizophrenic
Works with learning disabled. Wife, ‘S’, is a welfare
rights worker “when her illness allows”. Both mid 40s
with three children. Active in mental health charities and local
mental health groups.
did you set up Up the Down Escalator?
I didn't feel I could really talk to family and friends about my
fears and concerns, particularly when my wife's symptoms were bad
. At the same time there was an immense need to 'let things out'’.
Writing down my experiences helped in this regard.It's a cliche
but it really was cathartic and it helped me deal with some of my
No official counter. I know from emails I receive that it is being
read by a lot of people in the same situation as myself.
comments you receive useful?
Some are very useful, life-savers almost. One person sent me the
book Phone at Nine Just to Say you're Alive by Linda Hart. It was
my bible for weeks and gave me hope when I thought I'd lost everything.
I'll be forever indebted to that person for his comments and encouragement.
do you conceal your identity?
I don't use names and locations and I talk about feelings, thoughts
and medication. These things are universal to people who care for
someone with mental illness. Anonymity is more a concern of mine
than my wife's. She is quite happy to talk about her illness openly.
blogging software and why?
Blogger.com was the most simple. I didn't want any ‘bells
and whistles’. I just wanted to be able to write. I had no
idea how long I'd be blogging. I just wanted to set it up and get
recommended blogs? http://mindriddles.blogspot.com/
This article first appeared in Openmind, published by Mind
do you think? Email your comments on the above
article to the editor using the form below. Selected comments will
© 2001-7 Psychminded Limited. All
about this article