The Internet offers the possibility of seeking help for mental health issues anonymously. You can connect with others, access resources and get the support you need without disclosing anything about who you are, where you live, your age or your occupation. In contrast to face to face mental health assistance, a person can seek help in complete privacy – for example, total anonymity is offered by a range of the leading online counseling services. Let’s explore some of the services out there that offer anonymous help and let’s get to understand some of the advantages and disadvantages of this kind of service.
While the notion of anonymous support precedes the Internet in the form of telephonic hotlines such as Lifeline, the online possibilities have taken anonymous services to a different level. There are three main types of anonymous online mental health service: apps, chatrooms and online communities.
The range of possibilities in terms of mental health apps is endless. From digital CBT apps to apps that allow you to simply express feelings that are weighing you down (see Whisper or the now inactive Secret), these apps allow for complete anonymity. Chatrooms also offer a huge range of options for sharing a vast range of mental health concerns with individuals going through similar struggles such as addiction or bereavement and grief (e.g. Healthful Chat) or professionals who offer support (e.g. Lifeline Crisis Chat).
Some sites such as Blah Therapy also offer anonymous professional online counseling. Organizations such as Alcoholics Anonymous offer online meetings available to members who prefer not to meet face to face. Many of these chatrooms have user guidelines or codes of conduct and are generally monitored by a moderator. Online communities offer the space for sharing your story and serving as a repository for resources and guidance. Online communities usually have a moderator and often also offer access to professional services and resources.
These services offer a certain comfort in the anonymity that they offer. Many people may prefer to look for help in a way that doesn’t require them to come out and declare to anyone the issues they are struggling with. This is especially true in the mental health field where the stigma of mental health issues may otherwise prevent people from seeking the help they need. They offer an undemanding form of support that can be regulated by the user.
They can be accessed any time of the day or night, seven days a week. They are an important resource in offering containment, information resources and support. Anonymous services may also serve as a a first step in engaging with mental health services, thereafter serving as a stepping stone to seeking professional help. In fact, many mental health websites are designed to incorporate a range of services from anonymous services such as chatrooms (primarily with unlicensed individuals and volunteers), then progressing professional online therapy.
Nevertheless, there is a risk that users will see these anonymous services as a substitute for professional help. When help is just one click or one app away, people might just settle into this more convenient form of help and not seek out the help they really need. In addition, these sites may serve to reinforce behaviours common to mental health sufferers like social isolation and reluctance to confront the reality of one’s mental health issues. In people with severe mental health issues, anonymity may even be potentially harmful to them (e.g. a person with suicidality who only turns to these kinds of services for help).
By: Stacey Lebowitz-Levy
Dr. Stacey Leibowitz-Levy is a highly-experienced psychologist with a Master’s Degree in Clinical Psychology and a PhD in the area of stress and its relation to goals and emotion. In addition to her private therapy practice, she is currently an editor for a mental health resource called E-counseling.com. During her spare time, Stacey enjoys spending time with her husband and children, being outdoors and doing yoga.