Jenny is 24 year-old and lives with her parents. In the past, she was seriously ill but her involvement in youth volunteer projects played a big role in her recovery. She is now feeling healthy and works full time. She uses her lived experiences and recounts her personal story in a professional context.
Mental Wellbeing Journey
School offered mixed support – a few teachers were understanding, others less supportive. She received CBT and saw the school’s psychiatrist and a dietician. Jenny didn’t find the sessions very helpful – she knew a lot about food but the problem was having the desire to eat healthily.
Jenny stayed with CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service) until she was 20, and had mixed experiences.
“Well, do you know what, it kept me alive. So I can’t say it was totally unhelpful … it’s difficult to know what could have been done differently.”
Jenny finds practical input most valuable – making a list of things to do helps her see recovery as a practical process. Her parents attend her meetings with the psychiatrist to help them understand and support her. Despite getting on well with the psychiatrist, she feels he “knew a lot about illness but just didn’t understand teenage girls.”
The disconnect between CAMHS and other services was the main issue – none of them knew what medication Jenny was receiving. Her parents acted a connection between services and would notify the GP when she was discharged from hospital.
Jenny found the transition from CAMHS to adult care difficult. Being surrounded by other people with eating disorders created a sense of a negative spiral. Long stays in hospitals far from home made it impossible to keep in touch with friends and she feels she should have been encouraged to have more social life. Being discharged was stressful, especially the week-long wait to see a psychiatrist: “well, ok, what do I do for that week?”
Jenny feels that the care was missing the “whole person support”:
“You’re treating illness but there is a whole person attached to that”.
Jenny describes her illness as coming in phases. At University, she was unwell physically but enjoying University life kept her going; leaving was more difficult. However, her hospital visits progressively became shorter and finally unnecessary as she could self manage effectively.
“All the non-medical things” help keep her healthy; her job, volunteering, structured exercise, massage and new friends. They give her a sense of confidence, purpose and worth. Using her experiences to help others has been invaluable and helped her secure a full-time job in the mental health sector.
Jenny started to use social media actively after getting her own laptop, generating a lot of content. She accesses the Internet through her smartphone for leisure, and personal laptop for work. She becomes anxious if she ever forgets her phone.
On bad days, Jenny uses online journals, blogs and apps to obsessively track her weight and calories and deletes them when she feels stronger.
Jenny enjoys using digital media positively and recounts humorous details of her day on YouTube. She uses apps to help her sleep and relax. Keeping an open blog helps her keep a positive account of managing her mental health problems successfully. The longest she kept a blog was two years, and described eventually deleting it as cathartic.
Jenny also sought vital support from fellow sufferers on forums but felt it was easy to become trapped in a negative spiral:
“people were trying to get ill-er than each other”.
Digital media ‘withdrawal’
"I walked to the shop the other day without my phone. To start with I was like 'Oh no, I forgot my phone!'. But then it was actually so nice to go for a walk without my phone, when I stopped worrying about it ..."
Some people check phones so frequently that they experience withdrawal-like symptoms and mild anxiety when they can’t do so, even for brief periods of time.
"There was a lot of upsetting stuff online recently by this feminist – I can’t remember her name – talking about rape and violence towards women. I actually had to mute the hashtag because I was like 'I just don’t want to see this on my stream just now. I was talking to a few people who did the same.'"
Managing behaviour consciously and positively is arguably as important online and offline when it comes to mental health. Tools like trigger filters already exist on social media sites to aid self-management.
"I used a blog every day for two years ... but eventually I got rid of it because it was quite negative. Then I started another blog, but I mistakenly gave some people the password and realised I didn’t want them to read it, so I deleted that one too."
Reading peer blogs can foster a feeling of support but blogging communities can also be negative, sometimes attracting abuse and misplaced advice.
Private internet access
"I used Livejournal when I first got ill to track my weight going down and stuff, but I didn’t have it for long ... those were the days when you only had a shared family computer, so ..."
As in Greig’s story, having a shared Internet access can cause difficulty. Negative online behaviours can go largely unchecked and lower young person's threshold of self-regulation.
Negative online content
"The targeted ads on Facebook I find quite difficult ... I get a lot of the ‘Lose Two Stone In A Week’ type adverts ... sometimes I’m like, ‘Oh if they’re sending me this I must need to lose weight."
Users can be easily exposed to content which is potentially damaging for their mental wellbeing.
"You can think you’re doing everything right, everything positive ... BEAT is a good example, they’ve got their forums, you can’t mention numbers, you can’t mention food, all these things ruled out, but you can still see that people are competing, and that's just part of the illness ..."
The anonymity of forums helps young people express thoughts and questions they may be unable to raise elsewhere. Reading the comments of those in similar positions also allows them to feel less isolated and more understood. Some forum users can also provide invaluable positive advice. However, advice can sometimes be misplaced or potentially damaging.
Facebook vs Twitter
"Self harm and suicide ‘threats’ seem more common on Twitter than on Facebook ... perhaps it's not because there isn’t stuff on Facebook, just that you have to be friends with people to see it ... where as on Twitter it is easier to access this kind of stuff, it just involves searching a certain hashtag."
Young people’s Facebook networks contain close friends and, increasingly, older family members. As we have seen from the preference for anonymous forum and blog use, many vulnerable young people are unlikely - or unable - to share deeply personal and negative thoughts in such company. Twitter networks tend to be wider, often made up of complete strangers or more distant associates.