Young adult bloggers with mental health issues feel isolated, alienated

Madalyn Marcus and Monica Nunes

Young adult bloggers with mental health problems not only feel isolated, alienated and powerless, but view the mental health system as disempowering and controlling, a study by York researchers found.

The study was part of the Mobilizing Minds: Pathways to Young Adult Mental Health research project involving several outside partners and universities including York. It looked at blogs written by women and men between the ages of 18 and 25 that detailed their experiences with mental health problems.

Madalyn MarcusMany of these individuals are not yet connected with adult care, but are no longer considered children in the mental health system, says Madalyn Marcus (left), a PhD in clinical psychology candidate at York and a researcher with Mobilizing Minds. “What really stood out for me and that I found quite striking was the level of aloneness and isolation these bloggers felt from their peers and family.”

Marcus is the first author of an article, “What Are Young Adults Saying About Mental Health? An Analysis of Internet Blogs“, which was published in the February issue of the Journal of Medical Internet Research.

“The study was a novel approach to looking at young adults who have mental health concerns. This is a group whose voices we wouldn’t normally hear,” says Marcus, who serves on the board of directors for the Anxiety Disorders Association of Canada. As such, it provided the researchers with an unbiased glimpse into how young adults experience mental health problems and the mental health system.

“These are young adults that are very isolated, and the level of description about their experiences is often profound and sometimes quite poetic,” she says.

Despite the lack of connection that these bloggers felt in their everyday lives, the connection they had with each other online seemed quite helpful, says Marcus. “It appears there is a sense of community and support on the Internet. This is a way they can connect with people, and it’s healing in that way.”

Monica Nunes In addition, the bloggers felt ashamed about their problems and were concerned about the reaction of others, and so kept them a secret, says Monica Nunes (right), Mobilizing Minds project coordinator. They felt as if they were a burden, and were scared and unsure about receiving mental health care.

“What we found is that young adults view the mental health system negatively and they’re looking to manage their own care,” says Nunes. They also felt disconnected from the mental health system and unsupported by it. “I was really surprised by the extent of their disenfranchisement.” These bloggers felt information about mental health issues was not available enough, and peer support was a big part of their care.

“We know that anxiety and depression are the most common mental health problems among young adults in the 18 to 25 age group. Twenty-five per cent of young adults will experience a mental health problem over this period of development, yet fewer than half will seek help. Young adults often lack the information they need to pursue the help they prefer. The mental health system should look for opportunities to support young adults in making decisions about their mental health care,” says Nunes.

The question then becomes, “how can we help them, whether professionally or in more informal ways,” says Marcus. The idea is to create resources based on what young adults want and to increase their access to these resources, taking into consideration their attitudes and experiences with the mental health system.

This demographic wants information available online and through traditional sources, says Nunes. They want the information to be easily accessible and available to them at all times, even before they have a problem.

The eight blogs that were followed were chosen from an initial 3,500 web pages. The criteria included how frequent the blogs were updated – on a weekly or bi-weekly basis – and how often they were viewed.

Mobilizing Minds is a multi-year, multi-province knowledge mobilization research project that focuses on young adult mental health. The Mobilizing Minds team includes young adults, researchers and students from York University, the University of Manitoba, McMaster University, Brandon University and Brock University, as well as youth engagement experts and community partners. It aims to develop, pilot test, and share resources with young adults (and those who support them) to help them in making decisions about their mental health.

The paper is co-authored by York psychology professors Henny A. Westra and John Eastwood, and Kirsten Barnes (BA Spec. Hons. ’09)

For more information, visit the Mobilizing Minds website.

By Sandra McLean, YFile deputy editor