One of the constant themes within psychology and mental health is that we're always looking for ways to promote positive mental health.
Dennis Relojo-Howell, founder of psychology website Psychreg and a PhD researcher at the University of Edinburgh, passionately believes that blogging might be able to offer an answer.
Dennis's contribution towards promoting the psychological value of blogging has been widely acknowledged. He's now recognised as the world's first blog psychologist.
People create blogs for all sorts of reasons: as a hobby, to spread awareness about a particular topic, to connect with like-minded people, to gain popularity, and as a source of income (just google how much bloggers make!).
Now, those reasons might be true for bloggers within other niches. But for mental health bloggers like Dennis, they see a blog as an outlet that can enhance their coping strategies. The social connectedness that blogs offer is also another reason why people turn into mental health blogging.
But aside from its psychological value, blogs also have an important role in shaping digital communication. The internet can affect mental health, because it's intimately intertwined with our lives; so much so that if we don't know how to do something, we google it straight away. And by googling, we usually end up with blogs. Essentially, bloggers shape what we consume on the internet – mental health-related or otherwise.
Aside from its ability to shape digital communication, researchers have also demonstrated that blogs can offer psychological benefits. In 2013, two psychologists, Meyran Boniel-Nissim and Azy Barak, carried out a pioneering experiment. They invited 161 teens and divided them into groups. What they found is that those who keep a blog significantly improved in managing their social-emotional difficulties and have an enhanced self-esteem.
The notion that blogging promotes positive mental health draws from the premise that we can heal ourselves through writing. That notion predates the internet. It's an idea introduced by the psychologist Ira Progoff through journal therapy. And then in the 80s the psychologist James Pennebaker popularised expressive writing; it's a practice where people are encouraged to write about past traumatic events.
But blogging is an imperfect platform and one of its shortcomings is that it doesn't work for everyone. Some people find it boring. Some people find blogs to be less credible sources. Some people don't like YouTubers. Not everybody has access to the internet. Bloggers also tend to glamourise mental health issues. Also blogging is only a supplement to treatment; it's not a replacement.
As someone who has benefited from blogging, Dennis wants to explore more ways on how we can harness its potential to promote positive mental health. Right now, his research is driven by the ultimate goal of helping adolescents promote resilience through blogging.
'As we continue to seek ways to promote mental health, we can simply turn our gaze to what's already in front of our screens – blogs,' Dennis shares.