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Online Groups Are A ‘Lifeline’ For Those Seeking Support During The Pandemic

by : Niamh Shackleton on : 12 Mar 2021 16:21
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When discussing social media, a lot of conversations focus on the negative impact it can have on one’s mental health, but it has proven to have its benefits, too.

The pandemic has seen people house-bound for months on end, making it impossible to visit family and friends – a vital part of many people’s mental health support systems. However, many people have found other ways to seek support in these unprecedented times, all from the comfort of their own homes.

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Sam Thomas, 35, was in hospital due to alcohol addiction just a few months before the beginning of the pandemic and was also diagnosed with Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD) in the summer of 2020, something from which he’s been recovering while detoxing from alcohol ever since.

Having relapsed before, Sam was concerned he’d do so again during lockdown, but fortunately he found support online that kept him on track. He explained, ‘During the first lockdown, I found it difficult being isolated and unable to go to the gym and see friends, which had been a key part of my recovery. Living on my own and in a tiny studio flat, the intensity of my CPTSD symptoms became intolerable, which was the biggest risk to my sobriety and mental health recovery. Fortunately, by reaching out I was able to avoid getting into a crisis situation and risk another relapse.’

Sam first took to social media in November 2019 while in hospital, he opened up about his experiences and discovered the hashtag ‘Recovery Posse’. He, along with others, used #RecoveryPosse to share their recovery stories. Once he used it for the first time, Sam found himself inundated with messages offering him encouragement and support.

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Discussing his 2019 detox, Sam told UNILAD: ‘This online community was imperative in those first few days and the weeks after I completed my detox. From that point onwards I started posting updates at the weekend of how many weeks sober I am with daily updates in-between. Determined that I would make my sobriety work this time, I’m sure the Recovery Posse has played a significant part in me being able to keep on track through their peer support.’

Fast forward to the pandemic, Sam continued to speak to the online community and described it as a ‘lifeline’ during lockdown.

He said:

During the lockdowns the Recovery Posse was a lifeline for many when face to face support groups weren’t running and/or moving to be online (e.g. 12 Steps or SMART). I think I speak for many in saying that this unique online network has been a vital safety net, while they readjusted to the ‘new normal’.

Before engaging with the Recovery Posse, I didn’t use Twitter as a means to engage with other people recovering from addictions and mental health issues. While we often hear about how Twitter can at times be a negative space, it shows it can also be a positive and supportive space.

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Sam has now been sober for more than 70 weeks and successfully managed to keep on track with his recovery over the course of the pandemic – something he said is a ‘testament to the Recovery Posse’.

Someone else who found solace through social media is Laura Mathias, 29, who has had alopecia since she was 12 years old and has affected her mental health and self confidence for many years. Prior to the pandemic, Laura never left her home without her wig and make-up, but found not having to do this every day during lockdown was a relief.

Laura then wondered if others with alopecia felt the same way, which spurred her to connect online with other people who experience hair loss.

Photo by Deb Burrows
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Laura told UNILAD: ‘Like most people in lockdown, I have been spending more time online. I live alone and having virtual connections with my friends has been key. I found the hair loss community on Instagram at the start of the first lockdown. I started searching for hashtags associated with alopecia and hair loss simply because I had more time on my hands and more time to interrogate the way I had been letting alopecia dominate my daily routine, and my mindset.’

Laura continued:

The online hair loss community is huge and international. It doesn’t really have a name or a headquarters, but I know a lot of us refer to each other as ‘wig sisters’ or the ‘baldie community’. Thanks to the connections I made through Instagram I have been added to a WhatsApp group of over 100 people living with hair loss. We talk about everything from wigs and make-up, to mental health.

Ever since she has connected with other people with alopecia, Laura feels like an ’emotional weight has started to lift’ and has found her confidence massively increase and her mental health improve.

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She explained, ‘I went from DM’ing people asking how the hell they got to the point where they were willing to ditch the wig and get outside without worrying what others thought, to setting myself challenges to do it myself.

‘Ultimately, being part of the community has made me like myself, something that still seems to be a radical act! I am now an ambassador for the charity of Models of Diversity, proactively campaigning for better representation of all people in fashion and media industries.’

Laura added that finding the hair loss community online hasn’t only helped her mental health, but said that it has given her focus and purpose, too. She concluded, ‘No one should struggle alone with their hair loss. I want to be that ambassador that acknowledges the challenges of living with hair loss but also showcase that you can be happy, beautiful and bald.’

A third person who found help online, and even created their own platform, is Tom Home. Tom, 25, has struggled with his mental health since 2016 and has subsequently been diagnosed with high-functioning anxiety, depression and PTSD.

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He explained to UNILAD that when he first began struggling with his mental health, he was reluctant to open up about it in case people saw him differently. He said, ‘I was afraid of admitting that I was struggling for fear of being ridiculed, seen as weak or unmanly, and being treated differently. I didn’t tell anyone that I was struggling with my mental health and tried to cope on my own, something which, in hindsight, probably made things worse. When the paranoia and anxiety got too much, I attempted to take my own life.’

Thankfully, Tom’s is still here today, and sought professional help for his ongoing mental health conditions.

Since the pandemic begun, Tom described his mental health as being ‘up and down’, much like many people’s. Due to this and his previous reluctance to open up about his mental health, he decided to create an online platform where men – himself included – could speak freely about their struggles. Named ‘blOKes’, he created the group in June 2020 for men aged 16 and above.

Tom described blOKes as ‘a platform for men (16+) who may feel that they can’t or don’t want to speak to friends and family about their thoughts and feelings to have a safe, supportive and non-judgemental space to open up about their thoughts and feelings, connect with others and tell a #MaleTale.’

The group has gone on to have a great response online and has recruited several ambassadors, including professional rugby players, cricket players, Team GB athletes, boxers, musicians and media personnel.

Discussing how blOKes has helped him personally throughout the pandemic, Tom said:

For me, blOKes has been somewhat cathartic as it’s shown me that, if given the platform, men from all walks of life are willing to talk and share their stories. I’ve met so many truly wonderful people since starting blOKes and feel incredibly honoured at the support that people from across the UK have shown.

He continued: ‘blOKes has also been a space that I’ve felt I can turn to if and when needed too, so it’s very much been a supportive tool for my own mental health as well. One of my favourite things about the community that we’ve built is that there’s so many men who genuinely care about each other’s wellbeing – even if they have never met them.’

It just goes to show that even in the darkest of times, people still manage to find light.

If you’re experiencing distressing thoughts and feelings, the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) is there to support you. They’re open from 5pm–midnight, 365 days a year. Their national number is 0800 58 58 58 and they also have a webchat service if you’re not comfortable talking on the phone.

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Niamh Shackleton

Niamh Shackleton is a pint sized person and journalist at UNILAD. After studying Multimedia Journalism at the University of Salford, she did a year at Caters News Agency as a features writer in Birmingham before deciding that Manchester is (arguably) one of the best places in the world, and therefore moved back up north. She's also UNILAD's unofficial crazy animal lady.

Topics: Featured, COVID, Mental Health, Now, Pandemic, PTSD, Social Media