Response to "Mental Health Blogs Going Bye-Bye?"

From one of Furious Seasons’s latest posts:

Mental Health Blogs Going Bye-Bye?

As I noted earlier, there’s a spate of mental health blogs that are going on hiatus of some kind. Now, it’s my sad duty to report that Gianna Kali’s Bipolar Blast blog is going on an indefinite hiatus as well. You can read her post "Quitting?" for the details. Bottom line: all those years of very high doses of psych meds seem to have injured her body. I cannot even begin to send her enough good wishes. I cannot even begin to express my disgust with some of the bad doctors she ran into over the years.

Also, the Psych Survivor blog, written by a man I only know as Mark, was taken down a few weeks ago, and from what I gather he is in the hospital with heart problems. His was/is a good and strident voice on these issues we all care about and his work is missed.

All of this kind of makes me feel glum, since the two people above had been at the blogging game for well over a year and I sensed that they’d both be around long-term. These are people I care about and it sucks that they won’t be the presence they once were.

Why is it that mental health blogs are so difficult to do and keep going? Why is it so hard for them to find the substantial audiences they deserve? The Internet is crowded with blogs about politics, technology, gadgets, gossip and parenting and many of these seem to do quite well and have huge audiences and long lives, despite the fact that many of them are merely echoes of one another. Are readers of blogs that simple-minded that all they need is the latest news and opinion on Apple’s or Microsoft’s latest bit of software or Obama’s or Hillary’s latest gaffe?

You’d think in a country where 10 percent of the population is on anti-depressants and another 5 percent to 10 percent is likely on some other psych med that there would be a substantial audience for these issues (regardless of what one makes of the dominant mental health paradigm), especially given how wildly popular neuroscience is on the Net. It makes me wonder if we all–and here I include myself–have done something wrong in how we analyze these issues (are we too contrarian?) or if we all simply haven’t been crowded out of the big search engines (that’s how most people find mental health information online) because the Net is so over-populated with pharma sites and allied pro-pharma health websites. I can certainly say that the mainstream media–which usually loves writing about characters on the Net who push against life’s many intellectual tides–has given very little attention to sites like this one, despite the fact that sites like mine have been a very real service to many in the media.

Or maybe the mainstream approach to mental health care is right and the public is just trying to tell us something.

What do you think?

I’ll tell you what I think.

My answer will likely be too long for the comments section on Philip’s
site so I’m posting it here. I’ll probably end up with a senseless rant.

Q1. Why is it that mental health blogs are so difficult to do and keep going?
A1. Primarily, the people who blog about mental health (MH) are the people who are struggling with mental health. A person who has a relapse, ends up in the hospital, can’t get out of bed for days, or suffers from medical complications as a result of psych drugs won’t be or will have a hard time blogging. Those of us with mental health problems have to exert so much more energy than the average person just to get through life. Blogging is an activity that requires a lot of thought and reflection in addition to the daily activities of life. In the past, I’ve been overwhelmed by blogging and the need to make posts due to the growing popularity of my blog. Supply and demand. Demand went up but I couldn’t continue to supply. So my readership went down. If you’ll notice on my archives, I didn’t make a single post in October 2007 and for two straight months: December 2007 and January 2008. I’ve had this blog since July 2006—as time passes, life changes. Perhaps things speed up; maybe things slow down. I think every person who has a blog focusing on mental health will need to take a hiatus every now and then. Some people have overcome the challenges of mental illness and are ready to move on. Others feel as though they don’t want to dwell on their struggle with bipolar disorder or depression or schizophrenia or borderline personality disorder because that’s not the sum total of who they are. Blogging about mental illness isn’t fun. It’s depressing. It’s discouraging. It’s like London: a beautiful city that’s unbelievably dreary when it’s constantly foggy.

Then there’s keeping up on the mental health news. I admire Philip Dawdy’s ability to keep up on the Zyprexa developments as I’m sure everyone else who reads his blog does. But there’s so much information out there, it’s difficult (for me, anyway) to sift through and decide what’s worth writing about and what I can overlook. It was a difficult process at first but it’s gotten easier with time. (I tend to avoid the mundane community stuff like "Teens engage in class discussion about depression at Anywhere Public Library in Anytown, PA" unless there’s a unique angle to it.)

There’s more I can say to this question but I’ll stop here.

Q2. Why is it so hard for them to find the substantial audiences they deserve?
A2. My husband and I were talking about this earlier tonight. He said that people don’t want to know or read about mental illness (MI) because it’s such a negative, depressing topic. The NIMH reports that about 57.7 million people in the U.S. (26.2% of the population) suffer from any diagnosable form of MI in any given year. Those with chronic MI make up about 6 percent of the population.  Unless I’m mistaken, that’s roughly 13.2 million. Theoretically, the readership of mental health blogs should be somewhere in the millions. Since this blog’s inception, I’ve had about 63,000 hits. (I probably would have had more had I not taken those hiatuses.)

"Ignorance is bliss"—an expression that many Americans heed. Let’s take antidepressant use for example: according to a 2002 article from the NYTimes, 7.1 million Americans took antidepressants. I imagine that data has jumped up to 10 million (or more) since then. (Note: Here’s updated info on the psych drug statistics:

  • In 2006, 227 million antidepressant prescriptions were dispensed to Americans, more than any other class of medication.
  • 33 million Americans were prescribed at least one psychiatric drug in 2004, up from 21 million in 1997.
  • The U.S. accounts for two-thirds of the global antidepressant market.

FROM "Comfortably Numb")

Out of all these people, who wants to be educated about what they take? Even general medical health blogs aren’t that popular except among those already associated with the medical world in some way. The popular ones are politics, celebrities, and technology. It requires no self-reflection, no introspection, no deep thought on how we are taking care of ourselves. It’s easier to form opinions or pass judgment on whether we prefer Apple over Microsoft or whether Obama or Hillary said something stupider than the other. Reading the patient information for a pharmaceutical drug requires too much work. How can we expect these same people to read MH blogs when they won’t educate themselves with the most basic information about their health?

The Internet is crowded with blogs about politics, technology, gadgets,
gossip and parenting and many of these seem to do quite well and have
huge audiences and long lives, despite the fact that many of them are
merely echoes of one another.

I just want to add that there are significantly many more mental health blogs now (April 2008) than when I first started in July 2006. I searched for mental health blogs written by Christians and found them sorely lacking. Now I’m happy to be part of a small community that includes My Life with Bipolar Disorder, My Bipolar Journey, and Roller Coaster just to name a few. Perhaps mental health blogs are a growing community that will gain popularity (so to speak) over time as more and more people are diagnosed with these disorders and desire to learn more about them.

Q3. Are readers of blogs that simple-minded that all they need is the
latest news and opinion on Apple’s or Microsoft’s latest bit of
software or Obama’s or Hillary’s latest gaffe?
A3. Yes.

Q4. It makes me wonder if we all–and here I include myself–have done
something wrong in how we analyze these issues…
A4. No.

Q5. … (are we too contrarian?)
A5. No.

Q6. … or if we all simply haven’t been crowded out of the big search engines
(that’s how most people find mental health information online) because
the Net is so over-populated with pharma sites and allied pro-pharma
health websites.
A6. Perhaps. But here’s the trick: the more we link to each other, the higher our rankings. Unless Google’s changed the way its index works, if every single mental health blog linked the word Zyprexa to Furious Seasons, it’s possible that the "Google bomb" could make FS the number two hit for the word Zyprexa next to zyprexa.com. (See "miserable failure.") Google HAS changed it. Oops. I’m still inclined to try it though. :) It still doesn’t detract from the fact that the more we link to ourselves and each other—not just in our blogrolls but also in our posts—the higher the rankings all of us will have when it comes to certain topics, i.e. a search for "zoloft" and "rage" yields two of my posts as one of the top results. It’s better to link entire sentences rather than just saying here and here. Avoid that if you can.

Call me pessimistic but we’ll never beat out http://www.nimh.nih.gov, http://www.nami.org, http://www.prozac.com, or http://www.seroquel.com. But the more MH blogs report on the ugly side—or upsides if any—of mental illness, the more they can catch the attention of patients (and perhaps doctors) who are hungry for information. (Google search examples: Soulful sepulcher appears on the first page of "seroquel withdrawal" and Furious Seasons appears on the first page of "lamictal withdrawal" and Psychiatric Drug Withdrawal and Recovery appears on the first page of "risperdal withdrawal.")

Or maybe the mainstream approach to mental health care is right and the public is just trying to tell us something.

Or maybe if everyone jumped off the bridge, we’d be smart enough to realize what we were getting ourselves into before we chose to go over the edge.

Q7. What do you think?
A7. Long winded but that’s what I think.

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8 Comments

  1. BPD in OKC said,

    April 20, 2008 at 12:30 am

    I agree with pretty much everything you said. On my blog, I try to insert some humor and lighter topics occasionally so I and my readers will not get lost in the depressive nature of my illness. I agree that it takes alot out of us to dig deep within ourselves to write about our illnesses. We dig up painful memories for the sake of making a blog post. In some ways it’s helpful, but in some ways it can make you worse. You almost have to dwell on the negative things to write about them. I enjoy my blog, but there are some days when I just can’t stand to delve into my own brain long enough to get my feelings out. Sometimes I just want to forget the negative stuff and move on without taking the time to write about it.

  2. Philip Dawdy said,

    April 20, 2008 at 1:54 am

    good points. i’m not sure where the times got anti dep use at less than 10 million. it’s about 30 million ppl a year in the us.

  3. Duane Sherry said,

    April 20, 2008 at 3:39 am

    A lot of food for thought with your comment. It certainly was well-thought out, and I gotta say, it makes some really good sense.
    I think, the bottom line is that these blogs can be tough emotionally – including the amount of time that gets put into them.
    You make some very good points with your comments.
    Glad yours is still up and running.
    Duane

  4. Stephany said,

    April 20, 2008 at 5:33 am

    what a great post

  5. Gianna said,

    April 20, 2008 at 11:28 am

    good job Marissa…I’m still here…but not gonna do your meme…
    I want to leave up my farewell post until I can actually start real posting again.
    Frankly I just need a life. I have every intention to write again and actually I think I’ll be writing privately during my hiatus.
    I have to say the hardest part about leaving for the time being is going to have to see my stats go down…mine never stopped going up and there was so much pressure to make sure they kept moving up and up…stupid, but I guess if we don’t feel like we’re attracting some attention it feels futile—since sometimes it feels futile anyway…

  6. Rick said,

    April 20, 2008 at 5:17 pm

    I know that I tend to neglect my blog the most when I’m not feeling up to speed emotionally. If I had to deal with a chronic, severe mental illness, I’d have to be feeling really good to keep a blog going.
    Yes, it’s unfortunate that a great blog like this one has to compete with the likes of pharmaceutical companies in the Google search wars. I see you’re using a variety of tags on Technorati, so you’re really giving yourself a boost there. No, the signal-to-noise ratio isn’t always what we’d like it to be, but keep plugging away at it, and the people who really need to find this information will get here.

  7. diana said,

    June 19, 2008 at 5:35 am

    I too agrre with you even I know that I tend to neglect my blog the most when I’m not feeling up to speed emotionally.but finally its life and it is rightly said by one where there is will there is a way.
    ================
    Diana
    http://drugalcoholrehab.net

  8. sarah said,

    November 23, 2008 at 9:09 pm

    I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don’t know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.
    Sarah
    http://www.thetreadmillguide.com


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