Let’s Talk Online Support Groups

If you’re following my Let’s Talk series you know that my friend passed away last year on Let’s Talk day.

I don’t know what happened. It’s completely inappropriate to ask. Her sister posted that people had been asking what happened, and every time someone asked her, she had to relive it. People also speculated publicly, which is not ok at all. These were people who knew her from online mental health and addiction support groups. It’s taken me a year to get up the courage to share this story, and it’s not really about her or her family (who don’t know me anyway), but the off-chance that it might help someone who feels alone..

This series is my way of telling the parts of my own story that her death brought up. I met her in an online eating disorder forum when I was 15. The forum was shut down because the chat was not recovery focused. So we took our chat elsewhere…

I bought a .com and we started our own forum and chat website

It started as a way of keeping in touch with friends, sharing and creating. We just wanted to help each other feel less alone. We told each other ‘I’ve had days like that, I understand’.

On my website, Ophelia Drowning, I asked other young women to send in their poetry. Hundreds of teen poems were sent in, about what those teen girls, all over the world, where feeling and dealing with in their lives in the year 2000. I put up a chat page, forums, profiles for over 100 members, and a penpal/email exchange for peer support. 

People everywhere, who are struggling and afraid to get help in their own communities, can easily turn to the unconditional love of private online support groups. I’m bringing this story forward, openly, vulnerably, because support alone doesn’t help. We need to find meaning, share, connect and integrate.

support alone doesn’t help. We need to find meaning, share, connect and integrate.

Today, if you asked most of the members of my old website, about their lives, I’m sure you’d get some amazing stories of personal development and transformation. Most of us moved on. We found ways to transform our lives. Ways to be enough. 

The friend who passed last year had opened a private group in 2010 to bring a few members of the old site together. I noticed that a few of them have gone into social work of some kind. My friend was the one on the original website chat at 3am, she was the one messaging everyone to see how they were doing.

Private support vs. counselling

Part of erasing the stigma is understanding that thriving with mental illness is better than suffering with no illness. Counselling, seeing a doctor, support from friends, meditation, hypnosis, and all kinds of other wonderful things can help us live better, happier lives. Last winter, when I found myself suffering with depression, I couldn’t bring myself to get counselling. We have access to free health care here in Ontario. But the stigma, and my own resistance to rehashing the past with a stranger, prevented me from getting help when I could have used it most.

After my friend passed away, I started joining more private groups, mostly spirituality groups, and some business groups. And I started practicing finding my voice again, connecting and accepting support. Then I realized that my boutique had always been a place of support. People share with me, I listen, and I offer my insights and ideas.

We need to start discussing mental health, and illness, publicly, in order to raise awareness. We need to raise awareness not just of the vastness of the issue but also of it’s complexity.

And we need to use sensitivity.

Technology is increasing our awareness of what’s going on around us, and the availability of information and resources is getting better. The world is getting better at understanding mental illness and mental health. Better at supporting girls and women. And hopefully, the more we talk, the better it will get.

The world is getting better at understanding mental illness and mental health. Better at supporting girls and women. And hopefully, the more we talk, the better it will get.

This series, and more posts still to come, will dive further into my own story and how my life has changed.

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