Journalling is recognised as a useful tool in managing mental health. Online blogging offers a way to get many of the same benefits using a medium that can be highly interactive.
Blogging has exploded in popularity in recent years. The popular blogging platform WordPress reports that in June 2019 that it has 20 billion pages, with 70 million new blogposts and 409 million viewers each month.
Limited research has been done on the potential mental health benefits of blogging, and much of this was done 10 or more years ago when blogging was still a relatively new phenomenon. Given the rapid changes in the online environment, research like this 2008 paper in the American Journal of Psychotherapy on the therapeutic benefits of blogging on MySpace reads as rather outdated now.
To gather some relevant data, I posted a request on my own mental health-focused blog asking fellow mental health bloggers to share how blogging benefited their mental health. There were 23 free-form responses received; 19 were posted as public comments on the blog and four were submitted using an anonymous form.
Four broad thematic clusters emerged in the responses: interaction with others, inwardly oriented benefits, having a safe space apart from ‘real life’, and the use of time spent blogging.
Interaction with others
The most frequent theme that emerged was a sense of community and interconnectedness, which was mentioned by almost half of respondents. One blogger wrote: ‘I would write regardless of whether I shared it publicly or not, I always have, but the interaction means the world to me.’ This sense of community may not be accessible in bloggers’ everyday lives, and it provides an opportunity for people with mental illness to be part of an in-group where they don’t feel stigmatised.
Almost one third of bloggers identified the ability to connect with people they could relate to and/or learn from because of similar experiences. As one blogger shares: ‘Being able to connect and see others go through similar things is also so helpful as it can help you try new approaches to helping your mental health.’ That connection helped with feeling less alone. This is further illustrated as one blogger wrote: ‘I’m not alone when I blog. I feel a connection, a sense of community that my life lacks.’
It was also important for bloggers to feel heard, accepted, and validated, and also to get feedback and support from others. One person wrote: ‘It helps me feel heard, as if my voice matters; especially since, sometimes in my family, that’s not the case.’ Reading other bloggers’ stories was also helpful, as ‘others have been here and have a great deal of experience and insight to offer.’
This loosely clustered theme involved benefits from the writing process and other themes that relate more to the self than to others.
Being able to vent and release thoughts and feelings was the most common theme, identified by eight bloggers. This allowed for a sense of catharsis. One blogger wrote: ‘It feels like a release, a way of getting thoughts and feelings out in a way that doesn’t burden my nearest and dearest, but still feels cathartic by putting it out into the universe.’
Another major theme was greater ease of expression in writing than in spoken words. ‘I can put how I’m feeling into words that I probably wouldn’t be able to say verbally,’ one blogger shares. In this process, bloggers identified the act of writing as a way to better recognise, understand, and process their own thoughts and feelings, allowing for new ways of understanding. One blogger wrote that expressing things in blog form ‘sharpens your perspective and helps you to see your situation in a balanced light.’ Another shared that ‘the process of writing actually clarifies my feelings, which is important as I can’t always recognise my own feelings.’
Several bloggers described blogging as a form of therapy. ‘Blogging worked and continues to, five years later as a form of therapy, and the great thing is, it doesn’t come with a waiting list,’ share another blogger. Blogposts could also be useful as a tool to share thoughts and feelings more easily with a therapist.
Blogging also helped a number of bloggers experience greater self-esteem. One reported that: ‘It has skyrocketed my self-esteem. Coming from none to a growing belief in myself and my abilities.’ If you are looking for ways to improve your well-being, you can take advantage of HealthMonthly offers from ukpromocode.
Several responses touched on the ability to have a separate space from ‘real life’, where bloggers could truly be themselves and express themselves freely. According to one blogger: ‘I can safely address things that bother me, that others can’t/won’t/don’t understand without a lot of fussing about what’s ‘wrong’ with me. I can be myself. I can’t do that “in real life” because of a myriad of reasons.’
Some respondents added that they were able to share things that they hid from other people ‘in real life’ for fear of upsetting others. One wrote: ‘Here I can pour out my heart… I still try to hide what is happening to me from [my family] as well as I can, so as not to upset them… I might be wrong. They know I blog, but I refuse to give them the link to read.’
Time spent blogging
Another theme was being able to spend time in a positive, constructive way that resulted in a sense of accomplishment. This time spent blogging could serve as a distraction or a means of escape. ‘It also holds me accountable, and gives me something to do/look forward to.’ One blogger shares: ‘For me, blogging is a great distraction technique when I’m having negative thoughts.’
The words of my fellow bloggers capture much of what I’ve experienced blogging about my own mental illness. While blogging isn’t a tool I’ve previously recommended to my own clients as a mental health nurse, moving forward this is certainly something worth considering. Given how much further there is to go in the fight against stigma, an opportunity to connect with a community of peers is a powerful thing.