How to stay safe online

Explains how to keep yourself safe and look after your wellbeing when you use the internet for information or support for your mental health. It covers protecting your privacy, how to take relationships offline safely and how to address online bullying and abuse.

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How can I look after my wellbeing?

We all need to look after our mental wellbeing, and this is true online too. This page provides guidance on:

Dealing with upsetting content

It's possible that you might come across some articles, videos or images online that you could find distressing, or that might trigger negative feelings or behaviour – even if you're on a site you usually find helpful. For example, a blog that talks explicitly about self-harm may make you feel the urge to harm yourself, or a post on a social network about someone else's experience of depression may make you feel low yourself. Remember:

  • Avoid sites and feeds you know you might find triggering.
  • Try to be aware of how you're feeling when you're online. For example, if you're not feeling well, you might be more vulnerable to things you'd normally be able to deal with.
  • If you do see something that upsets you, close the window or scroll quickly past it. You might even want to turn off your computer and take a break.
  • Consider whether your posts could be triggering for other people, and think about using trigger warnings so that they can decide whether or not they want to view them. Try and be specific about why the content might be triggering, so that they have all the information they need to make a decision. If it's very likely to be triggering, you may want to consider not posting it at all.

What's a trigger warning?

You might come across trigger warnings online (sometimes shortened to 'TW' or 'tw'). This is a way of warning others that a post or page is going to contain some content that could be upsetting or triggering. The purpose of using trigger warnings is to help everyone keep themselves safe online. For example:

Trigger Warning (1)

If you see a trigger warning, think carefully about whether you still want to read the content.

Managing online relationships

Sometimes when we're online, we can forget we're actually talking to real people. Although it's possible to make great friendships online, not every person you meet will be someone you get on with – just like in offline life. Remember:

  • Don't say anything online that you wouldn’t say to someone face-to-face. 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.
  • Try not to read too much into things. 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.
  • Try to give other people the benefit of the doubt. If you’re not sure about what someone means by what they've written, ask them to clarify.
  • Be respectful of other people's views and opinions – even if you don't share them.
  • You can't always expect an immediate response. People may not be online all the time, so they may not be able to respond straight away.
  • Be careful about how much you share with people you don't know well (see our page on protecting your privacy for more information).
  • Don't tolerate online abuse or bullying.

We allow ourselves and we allow other people to say things [online] we would never normally do 'in real life'.

Noticing when your online activity isn't helpful

While it can be a huge comfort to talk to people experiencing the same sorts of issues as you, sometimes this kind of interaction can stop being helpful for you.

Take a moment to ask yourself:

  • Do the people you connect with online share the same motivation as you, or do they have different goals? For example, if you have an eating problem and are looking online for positive ways to challenge those thoughts and feelings, connecting with people who aren't ready to seek support for their own problems might not help.
  • How much time are you spending giving support to other people online, and how is this impacting your own wellbeing? Being a friend to other people can feel great, but caring for someone who's going through a difficult time can also be very stressful, and could affect your own wellbeing. (See our pages on managing stress and coping as a carer for tips.)
  • How long have you been using a particular kind of online support, and has it made you feel better or worse overall?

It's important to put your own safety and wellbeing first. If you notice that a certain online environment has stopped being a positive thing in your life, you might want to think about taking a break from it.

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.

Maintaining your online-offline balance

Sometimes getting support online isn't always the best way to look after yourself, especially if the amount of time you're spending online is starting to have a negative impact on your offline relationships and responsibilities. It's important to try to find a balance.

Try using these tips:

  • Try switching off your phone, computer and any other mobile devices, so you aren't tempted to check in online. You could start by giving yourself short, timed breaks, such as 10 minutes at a time, and build up to taking longer breaks away from your screen.
  • Set aside some time each day to do something else, like reading a book, doing some physical exercise or trying out a relaxation technique.
  • Protect time in your day to eat healthily and get good sleep (see our pages on food and mood and coping with sleep problems for more information about how these things can affect your mental health).
  • Think about taking a longer break from online activity, especially if you’re going through a difficult time with your mental health.

... if I'm feeling unwell or something worries/upsets me ...I turn off the laptop for the day.

Getting further support

Sometimes online support can't realistically give us all the help we want. If you find that things are becoming too much for you to cope with, or are worried about the way you are feeling or behaving, you may want to get additional support offline. You can:

 


This information was published in June 2015. We will revise it in 2018.


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