May 11, 2012

Photo of James, a Time to Change bloggerThere is a relatively new phenomenon in the world of social networking and mental health; the Facebook relapse.

I write as someone who has been unable to resist the temptation of posting status updates and comments when clearly unwell. The early stages of mania can lead to prolific activity as insight and inhibitions diminish resulting in increasingly obscure comments whilst the decreased need for sleep means friends in different time zones can respond immediately.

Prior to being sectioned last year I wrote a letter to the CEO of my local Trust at 4 o’clock in the morning with help from a Canadian friend. As others awoke in the UK they could see the letter and many commented on its content. The somewhat provocative letter highlighted many of my concerns regarding the lack of services available to me at the time with references to previous risky behaviour thrown in for heightened impact.

To his credit the CEO responded quickly and I immediately shared his reply with my friends.

I remember posting status updates throughout the day

Shortly after sending the letter I took my wife and mother-in-law out for the day unaware that many phone calls were taking place regarding my care and safety. Eventually the police were called and I remember posting status updates throughout the day that had a cat and mouse feel to them as the net started to close.

I continued posting as the section team were in my house and then as soon as I arrived at hospital I uploaded a picture of me in my new room. Thanks to my Blackberry, laptop and access to the internet on the patients’ computer I was able to stay in touch with all my friends and family providing regular updates that quickly became rants about my treatment. Following a poem written for my consultant (it wasn’t about daffodils) I was transferred to a secure hospital in a different county.

My wife, who doesn’t have a Facebook account, was finding it difficult hearing about my exploits from mutual friends at work

My wife, who doesn’t have a Facebook account, was finding it difficult hearing about my exploits from mutual friends at work and the immediacy of social networks meant that they were better informed than her on many aspects of my care.

The combination of being able to respond immediately to posts when emotions are high led to one instance that I bitterly regret. A good friend posted a status that I misconstrued and feeling angered I replied with an unforgivably hurtful comment that resulted in being blocked.

Whilst Facebook can provide a great support network for people going through challenging times it also gives a voice to those who often used to go unheard. The danger is that someone’s comments are dismissed and put down as evidence of being unwell when we know that we are as fully human when in crisis as at any other time.

The debate about whether internet access is a good thing on wards will rumble on

The debate about whether internet access is a good thing on wards will rumble on but the frantic pace of technology can’t be ignored. When I asked my consultant if I could use my Blackberry to record a ward round he became quite hostile and refused.

When I mentioned that I could do so covertly his response showed a high degree of paranoia and yet I was the one who was meant to be unwell. My reasons for wanting a personal record were understandable given that a foreign doctor had misrepresented my words in previous meetings.

It’s very tricky to know how to react

It’s very tricky to know how to react when a friend appears to be mentally breaking down and I am very fortunate to have people who understand that occasionally I go off the rails.

There’s also the deliberately vague status updates that invite comment and I recall posting ‘James is off to Broadmoor’ which led to a flurry of friends asking if I was ok. I had to quickly add that I was working at the hospital and hadn’t been admitted.

So there it is and the next time Facebook asks ‘what’s on your mind?’ just take a moment to consider your answer.

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