The Story of how a Simple Depression Coping Tool Took on a New Life in the Hands of an Online Support Community OR Why Mental Health Professionals Should be Online
If you have ever experienced intense anxiety or depression, you’ve probably lived with intrusive thoughts. You know, those insistent voices that whisper (or shout), about how you can’t get it right, everything is going to fall apart, you’re not loveable, you’ve made a mess of things. Those thoughts. Those thoughts that, even once you can start to know that they are false (which is a big step), still feel so insidiously true. Sometimes, their very awfulness makes them feel more real. And they are wickedly hard to shake.
So, a tool that I often use with my patients is to give that voice a name. This tool isn’t my creation–I can’t even remember anymore which course or supervisor brought it to my attention. But giving the voice a name a handy way of reminding yourself that that voice is not speaking the truth. Giving the voice a name allows you to create some space between you and the voice, to reclaim some kindness. Giving the voice a name can be an effective way of beginning to get the space you need to heal.
I have talked before about participating in several Twitter chat communities. One of the communities that I try to engage with regularly is the #ppdchat group organized by Lauren Hale, a postpartum depression advocate and blogger at My Postpartum Voice. During the course of a regular Monday chat, we were talking about coping with depression, and I suggested this tool. I think my kids had been on a Scooby Doo marathon, so the name I suggested for depression that day was “Velma.” Several people seemed to connect to the tool, but I didn’t think much more about it.
Until months later, when I saw the name “Velma” pop up in a tweet from one of the #ppdchat moms. And then I saw a #shutupvelma hashtag. And then I was included in a conversation about using the “Velma” tool, and I realized that the chat community had taken that small tool and given it a larger life. They used “Velma” as a shorthand for depression, and a group of people were on board with that. So a “Hush now Velma” in a Tweet was a flag that someone was having a tough day.
I have been a believer in the need for all kinds of health professionals to be present and engaged online for a while now. But this experience drove that need home for me. The tool of naming your depression to create space and distance is nothing new. However, in the hands of this community, it became a tool for coping, for building connection, for receiving validation and support. It got bigger. It got stronger. That is the kind of amazing synergy that can happen when health professionals engage (ethically and responsibly–none of these moms is turning to me for therapy) with informed and empowered online community members–those members take even better care of one another because they have more tools.
This is pretty exciting stuff. It makes me wonder: what else can we do? If you’re reading this, and you’ve had a meaningful interaction with a health professional online, please share. If you have suggestions about how we can engage like this more often, please share that too.
Photo Credit: Photo “Talk Shows on Mute” by Katie Tegtmeyer