To many, the Internet may seem like one of the banes of the modern generation. Although I do agree to a certain extent that it may be distracting at times, the web has been tremendously beneficial to me as an alternate method of communication. Over the last few years, I’ve discovered that the Internet is so much more than just a place to watch YouTube or to play video games. For many who are struggling with mental illnesses, it can be their only method to discuss these problems with others. And although talking about this openly has taken some time, I do think that online communication has helped me recover faster from the issues that I’ve faced.
The problem with things like anxiety and depression is that they are self-contained and lead to a vicious cycle. Opening up about one’s problems is effective, but those who are dealing with these problems may not have people they trust on that personal a level. This is extremely problematic, given that those with mental illnesses are more likely to be solitary and introverted, meaning that they aren’t as likely to have the close friends they need for support. After all, to talk about these things means to expose one’s deepest insecurities; to let others know about your most nuanced and personal feelings. In a new environment, this can be challenging at best; after all, it takes time to forge friendships. In any case, the added vulnerability that comes with talking to others about sensitive subjects in real life makes it a daunting prospect.
So for me, being able to communicate to others behind a veil of anonymity became my protection mechanism. When I talked to others online, I was able to receive the support and reassurance I needed, while avoiding the judgment, however subtle, that often comes with it. Take, for example, counselors in my old school. Although anyone could come to them to talk about anything, those counselors were often quick to notify the parents. Naturally, for non-confrontational students that wanted anything but to have an argument with their parent, this was a terrible choice. And although Sykes counselors are certainly much more understanding, to a certain degree some may be still tempted not to talk to them for fear of being forced to take a med-leave or to step down from a leadership role. This often causes students to become alienated from their own community and makes them turn to other resorts for help.
In my own way, I’ve also been able to help others. Whether it be a less social friend who was reluctant to talk about their experiences in person but opened up online, or people whom I’ve never met in real life before talking about their experiences, I’ve been supportive and tried to offer advice best as I can. And although going into detail about such experiences would be an affront to their personal privacy, in my time I have consoled and talked to a myriad of people, ranging from those who had lived down the street from the Christchurch Shooting to those who had been a victim of both physical and sexual abuse as a child. Attempting to comfort them, in many instances I often immediately gave them my advice on what I would do had I been them. In talking with a particular individual over the phone, however, I’ve learned that the most comforting method is often just to listen to their stories. Sometimes, all people need is just to talk about their troubles with someone else.
Having talked with many of these people online, I don’t feel as if I’ve wasted my time talking to unknown strangers on the internet, and think back about them periodically to check-up. At Andover, we are all lucky enough to have a counseling team that truly cares about helping students, so turning to the internet naturally isn’t as common. However, for those who are less fortunate or are so inclined, turning to online chat forums such like Discord may be one of their sole places of solace. Before we continue to harp on the myriad of threats the internet poses, let’s pause and consider some of its benefits.