Safety Guidelines When Disclosing Mental Health Issues Online (A Response to Cyberbullying of Vulnerable People)

Published on December 29, 2014

Recently, I've heard accounts of cyberbullies targeting persons with mental health issues, particularly cult show fanbases posting on Tumblr and various blogging platforms. These cyberbullies allegedly send hate messages, feeding on the posters' anxieties with some even urging their prey to commit suicide. And while online harassment may seem harmless, cyberbulling is very serious. The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Pediatrics reports that cyberbullying is more strongly related to suicidal thoughts in children and adolescents than traditional bullying. That cyberbullies would single out those who report struggles with depression, self-harm, and suicidal thoughts is alarming.

Below are my thoughts about disclosing mental health issues on the web. 

First off, speaking to others about one's mental health concerns is a good thing. Sharing struggles can bring emotional relief and remove the feeling of isolation. Those who have found a way to disclose to others, whether online or offline, are also to be affirmed for their courage. It's not easy to bare your soul, especially about conditions that carry social stigma. 

But remember: sharing anything online means exposing yourself --- and your vulnerability. In general, people tend to be understanding, and many have found solid support systems on the net. But sadly, there may be a small (very, very, very small) number of people who choose to prey on people with mental health issues. So do protect yourself.

Some tips:

Pick moderated platforms instead of free-for-all chatrooms. UK Charity Minds' Elefriends is an example of social media monitored by mental health professionals. 

Be extra careful in choosing who to share identifying details with. Anonymity is a double-edged sword; it helps you disclose without having to show your name/face, but it also means you don't know who you're speaking to. When in doubt about the intentions of the people you interact with, keep who you are to yourself.

And remember: you don't have to listen to every message that you get. Listen to those who care, throw away the sentiments of those who don't. If someone is harassing you, cut off all contact and report the bullying to the proper authorities. And if bullies have succeeded in agitating you, immediately reach out to your family, friend, church, or mental health professional.

If you know someone who is being bullied online, speak up. Bullying thrives when there are bystanders who choose not to act. Offer your support and encouragement to the victim; one simple but effective way is to extend a listening ear. If you feel ill-equipped to help, refer the victim to the nearest help center. If you're uncertain about the victim's location, there are international help lines that offer toll free counseling. And report, report, report. 

If you know a cyberbully, encourage them to seek help. Sourander and colleagues, publishing their findings in the Archives of General Psychiatry, found out that cyberbullies tend to be persons with percieved difficulty in emotions, concentration, behavior, and getting along with other people.  Victimizers also need help. 

Cyberbullying is unique in the sense that it can target anyone anywhere. I am a counselor in Manila, Philippines but I don't doubt that harassment from overseas can reach someone near me. And while laws policing cybercrimes still need to catch up in some countries, there are many things simple browsers can do to make a difference.

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If you reside in Metro Manila or nearby areas, and need help with bullying-related issues, you can contact Possibilities Psychological Solutions for consultation and counseling. You can reach us through +639101269540, 02-4040699 and possibilities.ph@gmail.com. Online counseling services available for overseas clients.


Category(s):Anxiety, Bullying, Depression, Suicide Prevention, Teenage Issues

Written by:

Kay Vardeleon

Karen Rose "Kay" Vardeleon, MA, CSCOP is the Executive Director of Possibilities Psychological Solutions.

She is passionate about work with persons with mood disorders, survivors of abuse and trauma, persons with non-chemical addictions, adult children of addicts, and individuals needing inner child work.


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