Just like in the offline world, when you're online it's important to think about your privacy and how to keep yourself safe. If you're online for support with your mental health, you may also need to think about a few additional things.
Some tips to consider:
- Check your privacy settings. Just because a site requires you to log in, this doesn't necessarily mean that your profile is entirely private – some parts might still be shown publicly.
- Think about who will see what you share. For many people, sharing their feelings online can be helpful during a difficult time. However, some people find that when they are feeling better, they regret how much they shared, or who they shared this with. Before posting about your personal feelings, try to consider how you might feel about what you've shared, and with who, in the future. Very few sites are 100% private, and information is often shared online beyond your control. It’s very difficult to remove something from the internet permanently.
- Protect your personal details. What you share online can affect both your privacy and the privacy of others, so it’s important to think carefully about what you post. You should avoid posting your personal details online, like your address or telephone number. Remember that photos or online check-ins can also give away personal information, not just written posts. If you think someone has used your information to commit fraud, such as opening a bank account or obtaining documents, you should report it as soon as you can to Action Fraud.
- Protect yourself from excessive online spending. It's very easy to spend money online, and if you are feeling unwell, this can be a quick way to make yourself feel better. Impulsive decisions about money can also be an issue during a period of mania or hypomania. This can lead to spending that can leave you in lots of debt. If online spending when you are unwell is an issue that affects you, see our money and mental health pages for information that may help.
- Dealing with triggering content. If you come across something that upsets you, close the screen or scroll quickly past it. You might even want to turn off your computer or mobile device and take a break. Some people find that using a distraction technique also helps, such as focusing on your breathing, watching TV or doing some housework. If you find yourself in a bad place or having negative thoughts after seeing triggering content, you might need to get some additional offline support.
- Try to avoid online self-diagnosis. Although online resources can provide a wealth of information about mental health problems and treatments, they are not always accurate, or there may be information you are missing. Talking to a GP is usually the first step in exploring what treatment and support options might work best for you. For more information about going to see a GP, see our pages on seeking help for a mental health problem.
- Use secure passwords. Websites such as Get Safe Online can tell you more about how to choose a secure password.
- Be extra careful with sexually explicit content. It's possible that someone could use it to try to harm you in the future. Although this does not happen often, it is something to keep in mind before you share sexually explicit content with anyone – even privately. If you find yourself the victim of blackmail because of sexually explicit content, report this to the police as soon as you can. You can also contact Victim Support 24/7 on 08 08 16 89 111.
- Immediate help. There may be times when you need immediate help and you can't get this support from being online. You may need to get additional offline support. You can also read our information on crisis services for more information about offline services that may be able to help.
I’ve learnt that when I’m feeling a particular way, that it may be best to stay away from certain websites. For example, if I’m feeling too hyper then I need to stay away from online shopping sites, or if I’m very low then it’s not appropriate to post my feelings on my favourite gaming site.
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.