How can I keep relationships healthy online?
Although it's possible to make great friendships online that can help support your mental health, not every person you meet will be someone you get on with – just like in offline life. Remember:
- Consider the potential impact of your words online. It might feel easy to say whatever you want from behind a screen but try to think about how your words could affect people, as you'd want them to do for you.
- Misunderstandings happen. Misunderstandings can happen easily online because the signs we use during face-to-face conversation, such as tone of voice or body language, aren’t available online. It's easy for someone to hit 'send' before thinking how what they've written may come across to you.
- Be respectful of other people's views and opinions – even if you don't share them.
- Try to be realistic. Just like in offline life, you are unlikely to receive all the support you need from an online relationship. It's best to try and be realistic about what support an online relationship can offer. (For more tips on getting support offline, see our information here.)
- Think about the impact of supporting someone else. Supporting someone else online can be a good way to improve your self-esteem. However, if this becomes overwhelming and starts to negatively impact your mental health, you might need to take a break. (See our pages on supporting someone else for more information and tips on how to look after yourself.)
- Think about other people's intentions. Not everyone online is looking for support, so it's a good idea to be a little bit cautious at first. You may meet someone who is not ready to seek help, for example, or someone who is looking for a sexual relationship when you're not. You may even come across someone who is looking to take advantage of vulnerable people, or who becomes abusive. If you start to feel uncomfortable about someone you've met online, it is best to stop communicating with them, and report any inappropriate behaviour to the site's moderators.
- Take a break. If an online relationship is no longer working for you, for example, you keep arguing or they want more support than you can offer, it might be best to take a break. Social media sites and online communities allow you to unfollow or defriend people on a temporary or permanant basis, which can be helpful if you are finding being connected to someone difficult online.
When it is too much or an online relationship is getting overwhelming I think it is important to take care of myself; to have the courage to be honest and gently tell the person/people the truth.
What should I consider before meeting someone offline?
The internet can be a great place to make connections with new people. If you have made a good online friendship, for example, with someone you've been chatting to on a peer support site, you may decide to take it offline. This might mean talking over the phone or arranging to meet face-to-face.
Many people have established long-lasting and supportive friendships this way, but it's also important to keep yourself safe.
You might want to ask yourself these questions:
- How much do I know about this person? Try and think about what they've told you about themselves. How long have you been talking to them? Do you have any mutual friends?
- Are they definitely who they say they are? While most people are honest, not everyone represents themselves accurately online.
- Do I feel pressured into meeting up? You don't have to do anything you don't feel comfortable with. It's OK to tell someone you're not ready to meet offline just yet, or that you'd rather keep your relationship online-only.
- Do we want the same thing from an offline relationship? It's important to be clear beforehand about why you want to meet, to make sure that your motivations and expectations are the same. For example, you might just want to continue an existing friendship, but the other person might assume that you want to develop your relationship in a sexual or romantic way.
When meeting up with someone for the first time, it's a good idea to keep these suggestions in mind:
- Don't give out your phone number or address until you're confident that you know who you are talking to.
- Always make sure you meet in a public place, during the daytime, when other people will be around.
- Let a friend or family member know where you are, who you are with and when you expect to be back.
- Keep in touch with your friend or family member while you're out.
- Ask someone else to come with you. If you’re both part of an online community, perhaps ask other people in the group to come too.
What can I do about cyberbullying and abuse?
Cyberbullying is bullying that takes place online through a digital device like your computer, mobile phone or tablet.
It can be horrible to experience bullying or abuse online, but remember – you don't have to put up with it. If you experience bullying or abuse, there are some things you can do immediately:
- Don’t respond – it can encourage further unwanted communication.
- Block or delete the person – this means they won’t be able to contact you and you can’t see what they write.
- Keep records of any posts or messages that you’ve received, for example, take a screenshot or save messages to an offline file. This can help if you need to provide evidence to the site moderators or the police.
- Report it to the site moderators. Most websites will have a policy for reporting bad behaviour, so make sure you read this before you start.
- Talk to a trusted friend or family member – they may be able to offer help and support.
- Contact the police if you are being threatened or abused online and you feel in danger.
It's easy to delete and block people ... don't worry about hurting their feelings. Look after yourself.
This information was published in September 2018 - to be revised in 2021. References are available on request. If you would like to reproduce any of this information see our page on permissions and licensing.