Ready or not, the internet is here to stay as our use of social media continues to climb. Our world has changed with integration of technology in daily living activities, but has it changed how we connect? Despite a bad reputation, the internet can be used to reduce social isolation and facilitate physical interactions. Many people managing mental health and chronic illness find the web helpful for locating information and connecting with others.
The pros of communicating on the internet are anonymity, the option to log off at any time, and the ease of avoiding direct conflict or rejection. Being socially connected is associated with endurance and a healthier quality of life. According to Cigna’s 2018 Loneliness Index, 1 in 4 people rarely or never feel understood by others, and nearly half of Americans feel lonely. Responsible use of the web and social media can lead to meaningful experiences.
Take a look at the following suggestions for a positive experience leading to face-to-face interactions:
Respond to a post on your news feed by phoning the individual versus a text or DM. Example: Congratulations on your promotion; I saw your post. How do you like it so far?
Use social media to initiate face-to-face meetings. If you see an interesting post on your feed, ask that person to meet for coffee to discuss it further. Example: I saw you graduated last week, let’s meet up to celebrate!
Make eye contact during video chats. Be present and treat the individual as if they were in the same room as you. Avoid doing other tasks during the conversation.
Put away your phone or turn on the “do not disturb” feature when you are face-to-face with someone. Use an alarm if you are expecting an urgent call and inform the individual. Example: I am expecting an important call in about 20 minutes; no other interruptions are planned.
Create gadget-free zones like the bedroom, kitchen table, or family room when you aren’t chatting online.
Be empathetic. Empathy understands when there is no personal experience.
Ready to make more face-to-face connections? Here are a few ideas to try:
Call a friend or family member to say hello or listen to their summary of the day/week.
Stop and talk to one person the next time you’re at an office, shopping, or grabbing a coffee.
Join group exercise classes for physical wellness and meeting new people.
Avoid using technology right before bedtime.
Looking for love can be trivial, and although online dating is no longer associated with weird or unsuitable, connections on the web are not always positive.
Check out some apps and websites for people managing mental and physical health conditions**:
NoLongerLonely.com is a friendship and dating service founded by someone with a mental health diagnosis for individuals with a mental health diagnosis. The site dubs itself the ”ultimate icebreaker,” eliminating anxiety associated with disclosure and prescription medication. No Longer Lonely does not have a mobile app, but maintains low membership fees and lets you respond to messages with a free account (limited monthly tokens). After a two week trial, you can opt for the lifetime membership. Members: 54,500
Lemonayde is designed for people with chronic health conditions and makes it comfortable to talk about your health (disclosure not required). You can download the app for free from iTunes and Google Play. Subscriptions cost $6.99 monthly and $47.99 yearly. Members: Unknown
Glimmer, founded by Geoff Anderson and his mother, is a dating app for people with physical and cognitive disabilities. Disclosing or having an illness is not required for membership. The Facebook business page reports they are currently working on some upgrades.
The UK based Prescription4Love, like Glimmer, is a specialized alternative dating and friendship service for people with special health conditions, including STI's. Members can be honest and upfront, progressively developing a support group of like-minded people. The site allows some features with a free profile, but subscriptions costs are not available without one. Members: Unknown
POZ Personals was born from the well-known online and print magazine for people living with and affected by HIV/AIDS. The dating site has two levels of membership: free or Premium. Paid subscriptions are $9.99 monthly or $49.99 yearly. Members: 125,000
Need to explore a bit more? Your health plan may have programs to help you manage feelings of loneliness, stress, or simply feeling down:
Complete a free assessment.
Call the phone number on the back of your health insurance card and ask about the benefits included in your plan. Some benefits may include preventive screenings, an employee assistance program (EAP), or mental health benefits.
Share how you’re feeling physically and mentally with your primary doctor.
Don’t be embarrassed to talk to your friends. Ask a friend if they’ve ever spoken with a counselor or doctor about how they’re feeling, and if they have any recommendations.
Consider talking to people in similar situations, like peer support groups, as it can be helpful. Daily Strength connects people to online support groups. Mental Health America can help you locate support groups in your area.
**Please consult your attending clinician before committing to a membership and do your research.