Health

Need someone to talk to? Here are a few safe online spaces to find kind listeners

Just say hi Ayushi Khemka Asidhi Gupta,posts by It’s Okay to Talk Special Arrangement

Just say hi Ayushi Khemka Asidhi Gupta,posts by It’s Okay to Talk Special Arrangement   | Photo Credit: Natalia Mikhaleva

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The perfect people living perfect lives on Instagram might depress you. But social media can also be a place to find kind listeners, as these pages prove

‘When I was diagnosed with depression’: AP, Male, 26, Kolkata

‘A desperate SOS from a lonely soul’: SB, Male, 58, Gurgaon

‘Tremors - A Day in the life of my mother’: TB, Female, 25, Noida

These headlines spill off the ‘It’s Okay to Talk’ website: some heartfelt messages, some anxious ramblings, and some lucid reflections.

When it comes to mental health, the Internet gets a bad rap. Multiple studies over the past few years — the latest from Canada, published in JAMA Paediatrics — have concluded that there is a positive link between the amount of time spent on social media and the rise in depressive symptoms.

And yet, it is online that the above mentioned people have found a listening ear; on It’s Okay to Talk website, they can give accounts of their experiences, and hope it will echo with someone around the world. Started by Sangath NGO, co-founded by psychiatrist Dr Vikram Patel, the initiative is one of many that have appeared online, which allows people to discuss their state of mind.

Why not a real-life support group? Why the Internet? “Because that’s where people are. The youth are online, looking for more information on mental health. So we need to provide a solution where it can be accessible to them,” summarises Sweta Pal, coordinator of It’s Okay to Talk.

“Moreover, on the Internet, you need not filter your thoughts. It’s just a stranger you have never seen,” says Bhavika Mehta.

The 19-year-old is the latest to join this batch of online mental health support pages. Last year, the Delhi woman started her Instagram page, The Happy Company (@to.a.happier.world), to provide a safe space for people dealing with mental health issues.

Listen up

Bhavika encourages people to drop a DM when they need to talk, and she or one of her volunteers will get in touch with them for a conversation. “Before depression becomes that, there is a lot of build up. Keeping those feelings of melancholy and loneliness to yourself can trigger it.”

Need someone to talk to? Here are a few safe online spaces to find kind listeners

Despite her relative inexperience, within a month, her page was getting mentioned by artists and actors such as Eisha Chopra and Hitha Chandrashekar, sharing their own battles. She currently works with 30 volunteers, each handling around two conversations per day.

“We remind them that we are just a bunch of students, and ask if they are all right talking to us. Then we also provide a database of counsellors, therapists, and professionals,” she says.

Similar is the case of Mental Health Talks India, run by Adishi Gupta, 24, and Ayushi Khemka, 25. While the duo primarily puts up posts on social media opening up dialogues, it also invites people to share their stories of survival and post them. “Even today, we receive about four to five messages, not just as DMs, but emails too. Once, there was a person who wasn’t comfortable speaking over text, so we did a conference call with her for over an hour,” says Ayushi, adding, “Mostly, they just need someone to talk to.”

Need someone to talk to? Here are a few safe online spaces to find kind listeners

Doesn’t being exposed to people’s struggles daily affect their own mental state, considering they lack training as psychologists? “I myself go to a therapist,” reveals Adishi, “So if there are days when I am spiralling, I let Ayushi handle the majority of work.” And vice versa.

On the plus side, their youth makes them more relatable. The people on these pages are generally between the ages of 15 and 30: teenagers in college, people in their 20s, working their first jobs and so on. “The topics we get most often are stress due to toxic relationships, and work,” she says.

Sweta reveals that her team has analysed the stories they have collected on It’s Okay to Talk, over two years, to publish a paper on young Indians and mental health, in BMJ Open. The common themes that stood out were feelings of loneliness, combined with a desire to help others break the stigma.

Words to art

For 24-year-old artist Sonkasha Iyengar, the Internet is a space for long conversations and listening. Bullied through her years in school, and therefore unable to connect with the people around her ‘in real life’, she would look forward to coming back home, and logging onto the Internet.

“I started blogging when I was 12 and made a lot of friends from the blogging community,” she recalls, adding how online she didn’t have to put on a face, and pretend to be someone she wasn’t.

Need someone to talk to? Here are a few safe online spaces to find kind listeners

Now, a popular presence with 13k followers, Sonaksha (@sonaksha) regularly asks her followers’ questions, through Instagram ‘stories’, addressing their many concerns. In a somewhat similar, but more crowd-sourced way, digital artist Indu Harikumar has put out calls for personal stories about people’s experiences, to collate them, present them artistically online, and create a safe space so that there is more awareness about things we don’t talk about in our daily lives.

Her campaign #100TinderTales threw light on the nuances of what one would otherwise dismiss as hookup culture, while #Indentitty invited people to submit photos of their bust (in whatever degree of undress they were comfortable in). Accompanied with stories, it started a conversation about socio-cultural issues with regard to a woman’s breasts.

If not for the free space that is the Internet, none of this would have been possible. The Gen-Z Bhavika puts it best: “Awareness came not through schools, but online — nobody talks about mental health in classrooms! But the Internet is a force that has shaped us.”

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This article has been edited for a factual error post publication.

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Printable version | Dec 16, 2019 6:35:11 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/health/need-someone-to-talk-to-these-online-safe-spaces-have-got-your-back/article28759252.ece

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