We all have mental health. It affects our psychological, emotional, social and in some instances, our physical wellbeing. It also affects how we feel, how we act, how we communicate and how we deal with the many challenges life can throw at us. Because mental health holds such a significant role in our overall wellbeing, when it starts to decline, whether through a one-time traumatic experience or through long-term mental illness, it can have a serious impact on our lives. To avoid negative experiences escalating into something more severe, it is vital that we are mindful of our mental health as much of the time as possible.
It is ‘normal’ to be concerned about the effects of the internet on mental health. In our new digital era, the internet is considered to be a necessity for almost everybody – we use the internet to communicate with our friends and families, catch up on news, access education and there are now very few jobs left on the planet that don’t require at least some use of the internet! Although it has revolutionized the way we work, learn and communicate with each other – it also carries the exact same power and potential to cause harm and distress to users who might be unprepared for exposure to such diverse and ‘unregulated’ content and materials. Because of the wide-open nature of the internet, there is a risk that some users can be upset, disturbed or adversely affected by their online experiences. Some examples of this might be the ‘triggering’ of people with pre-existing conditions relating to eating disorders or self-harm.
Most people first learn about the terms ‘cyberbullying’ and ‘online harassment’ through cases of suicide reported in the media, where the internet has been used to target a victim with digital abuse or harassment to the point that they can no longer see an alternative but to end their own life. We have seen time and again, that when we experience this type of targeted ‘toxic’ behavior – it can affect our mental health in the same way similar experiences would in real life. Our emotions are real, they do not differentiate between what is online and what is offline – we respond in a similar way and feel similar negative emotions regardless of the way the hurtful words or content are delivered.
People who are targeted with cyberbullying or harassment might experience feelings of isolation, loneliness, self- doubt, depression and anxiety. All of these affect our mental health, and it is important to be mindful of the emotions that we are experiencing and to seek help if these feeling become debilitating or overwhelming.
There are many useful organizations who can help you with your mental health concerns. Some organizations offer mental health helplines to provide support for longterm mental health problems and short-term crisis support.