Some thoughts on mental health blogging and anonymity

2014-07-10 19.07.33
Hello darlings! Mummy’s been a dreadful blogger recently! It turns out that working is actually quite hard work and also I am lazy and then I went on holiday. It was lovely, thanks for asking! Anyway, I’ve got lots to post about and some fabulous new guest posts for you all. Hopefully the schedule will return to near normal as, through the wonders of modern technology, I can now blog on my commute. Seriously! I kid you not! I’m on a train right now! (I’m not actually on the train any more. It’s taken me like a month and a half to write this post.)
So I wanted to share some thoughts with you about anonymity and mental health blogging. This is something I’ve been thinking about a bit recently and a post I’ve been to write for some time. Straight off the bat, I want to say that different people have different relationships with their mental health, their friends, their colleges and their online community. Some people don’t think twice about blogging under their real name, for others it is simply unthinkable, for a whole variety of reasons. Some of you who I spoke to on Twitter saw revealing your identities as anti-stigma work, others said that they were not embarrassed or ashamed by their condition and therefore felt no need to hide it from others. However, I think that choosing whether or not to publicly discuss your mental health is more complicated that just being embarrassed or ashamed. Some of you shared your fears that speaking out about mental health would affect your chances in the job market or of one day adopting a child. Others had dedicated anonymous Twitter and blogging accounts in order to separate their mental health identity and their public identity to discuss their experiences without friends, family and supervisors finding out. So I guess that thought number one on mental health blogging and anonymity is that it’s not big or clever to judge people because they do or do not use their real name. We’re all friends here and you can’t guess anyone else’s story.
When I started blogging, way back in October, I did it out of anger. I was angry about my own treatment and the treatment of all the other PhD students I chatted with around the globe. I was too angry for caution and I launched into blogging using my real name and location. I didn’t explicitly name the unit in which I worked but I knew full well that I was easily googlable. I was very careful never to identify anyone with whom I worked out to say anything explicitly criticising my department. My husband worried about me receiving nasty messages for speaking out about mental health. Thankfully I can say that this is something I have never experienced. The online community that I found has been massively supportive. However, around that time, I wrote a post about talking to your supervisor about depression which upset some people in my department (I was going to repost it but WordPress has helpfully deleted it). Ultimately, it was the reaction to this piece which made it impossible for me to return to my PhD. In response, I removed the post and any indicators of my identity from the blog. I seriously considered packing the whole thing in but I’m glad now that I didn’t. Anyway, that is thought number two on mental health and blogging… Never underestimate the capacity of people to see themselves in your writing and get all up in their feels about it. So if you’re using you your real name, go carefully. 

Thought number three I guess is that it is difficult to keep your mental health life and your personal life rigidly separate. I was in a more unusual position than most as I started out using my name and then removed it, by which point a number of friends and colleagues knew it was me. As I kept my blog connected to my personal twitter, friends who weren’t connected to my PhD or academia in any way would still often read what I had been writing. It was a strange experience to go for coffee with non-PhD friends who would say “oh I’ve been reading your blog”. Actually, I ended up having some great chats with friends who would probably never have mentioned their mental health to me otherwise. The strangest part for me came when I was invited to speak about mental health and academia at a conference. Worlds collided as I, in my physical ex-PhD body, got up to speak as my blogging mental health persona. I realised that, while I was comfortable addressing the mostly faceless online mass, I had never before spoken in person to a large group of people about my experiences. I think that nowadays, my online and real life have pretty much fused into one. This is greatly helped by working in a job where my blogging is not only known about but seen as an asset.


The last point that I wanted to make was lifting your voice about mental health is important and snaps for you if you are speaking out in any way. The online community is a great way for anonymous voices to contribute to the discussion. Sometimes it feels like it only the concerns of those who shout most loudly that are addressed, and I think it’s enormously important that those anonymous voices are heard and acknowledged.
Anyway, that’s all for now team. Hopefully it won’t be so long until my next post! As always, if you would like to guest post on any aspect of mental health, hit me up!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s