Safety Net

I volunteer with Rethink. I have for the past few months been working with the local users forum to put together their quarterly newsletter, and I have loved the writing aspects to it and have loved being able to get stuck in and research different aspects of Mental Health from a local point of view and having an organisation to hang a banner for my writing from.  I haven’t had to rely on my own point of view to hide behind, I have learnt so much about writing for an audience that isn’t generally my own.

One of the things I have found whilst I have been out and about is that there is a heavy reliance in society today on the Internet. There is so much out there that is available to people with Mental Health issues online. They can get help with getting more out of being online, help with paying bills, peer support and so much more. In the last Newsletter I have just helped with pretty much every article had a link at the bottom to refer the reader to more information online.

This is all well and good but the sad fact of the matter is that whilst out meeting people at the User Forums, 75% of the people at the forums DON’T have a computer or Smartphone to access the internet. We have provided places where it is possible to get cheap well maintained computers for really knock down prices and that is all great and laudable, but then after this past weekend a reality hit me and I had to take stock at how I go forward in my future dealings with people who have any kind of health issue be that Mental Health or Physical Health or even for the fully well.

Can I in all good feeling and with a hand on my heart say to someone: Get online and things in your life will improve no end!

Can I really say to the lady who has Bipolar who struggles to keep a conversation going in a room of 4 people to get online and meet more people like you and find out you’re not alone. When in truth she could say the wrong thing on Twitter or Facebook and BAM she opens up a shit storm of abuse aimed at her for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Can I really say to the bloke who has Schizophrenia who is having a bad patch, but is trying to keep himself safe by listening to music on YouTube and making the odd comment, but he phrases something wrong and in the ensuing days gets bombarded with a torrent of abuse for having an opinion that is aimed at him for something he said whilst being unwell and not completely in control of his own judgement.

There is far too much resemblance on the internet of the Wild West. The only thing missing is Marshall Dillon and Billy the Kid shooting it out at the OK Corral, yet given time it wouldn’t surprise me that that wouldn’t show up on YouTube.

How do I as a “self-confessed” technology evangelist go on promoting people get online and improve their quality of life?

For me getting on the Internet when I did gave me the world. It gave me my life, my wife, my family and it gave me my passion for writing again. It gave me all that I am thankful for now. It has also scared the living crap out of me in the way it has changed in the 15 years I have been online.

Back then, it was so simple, Dial in wait 5 minutes to see the latest webpage and then wait another 5 minutes for the next webpage. Maybe chat to the friends you made all over the world. When did it change?

What can I do to make this better?

How can I improve the landscape for the people I want to encourage to get online?

I do still think that getting online is a great idea for everyone. I do think that with the right places and tools, getting online, people with Mental Health issues can get a lot more out of life than they do without being online.

Whilst I was going through the Recovery process before being discharged, I was encouraged to make more face to face connections to help myself get better. I did this and to an extent it helped. I enjoyed and still enjoy the contact I get from meeting up with the people I meet at the User Forums through Rethink and other things I go to. That chance to get an immediate hit of conversation and to see the body language and facial expressions whilst talking is great, but without my online life, I would be far less the person I am. I spend most of my time online when I am not with my family. I am not always s in a chat room. I spend a lot of time researching for stuff I am writing, but having that access to the world is where I am happiest.

So here is my question: How do we start to make it safer for people to be introduced to the online world when we as experienced users are still vulnerable to attacks?