One of the most difficult aspects of running an online chatroom for mental health issues is that it is anonymous. In some respects this is a boon for people because they feel more open to share that which they might otherwise keep to themselves for fear of stigma or punishment. For those of us who support people who arrive in The Haven in crisis, and as owner I often get involved with crisis cases, the anonymity can be devastating if you let it be.
Doctors are taught what is called “clinical detachment.” Essentially this means that they must rein their emotions in when dealing with patients because, for instance, if they worked in an ICU they likely would lose patients all the time. Without detachment that level of emotional bombardment would be unsustainable, and in fact many people cannot sustain it and burn out.
I have had to learn a modicum of clinical detachment working with crisis cases because often I don’t know if someone ended up OK or not. One of the most recent encounters I had ended with someone saying they were about to overdose, lethally, and that I would be their last conversation. I didn’t hear anything after that. Since the platform, Discord, is anonymous, there’s nothing more that I can do except talk to that person and suggest that they reach out to emergency services, which often people in that situation are very disinclined to do. Once they’re gone, I cannot trace them or send police to their house unless for some reason I know them and have their address, which is rare on the server. Once they’re gone, they’re gone and I have to sit and accept that I’ve done all that I can.
Though this encounter bothers me, purely in the sense that I care for people and I don’t want them to hurt themselves, I didn’t let it get me down. This is where my detachment comes in, because I can allow myself to care without devolving into an emotional wreck about it. I don’t beat myself up because I could have done more, because in most cases I couldn’t have. Sure I could have tried a different technique maybe, but I am only human and only know what I know, though I learn more about this mental health world every day.
The bottom line is that to keep myself sane I’ve had to step back and care more about myself than I did before, care enough to accept my situation, accept that I’ve done what I can, accept that I can’t know what happens, and try to accept that I’m not a bad person because I couldn’t help in the end. Maybe I did help but I can’t ever know unless the person comes back, which to be fair many do, much to my great relief.
It is no simple task working to moderate a mental health chatroom. Everyone in it is mentally ill in one way or another so there are constant blowups and interpersonal drama. I can’t let it get to me. If I want to achieve what I want to achieve, which is for The Haven to become a thriving nonprofit able to grant funds to those in need of mental healthcare, then I need to keep looking at the big picture. I need to steel myself against the sadness and the pettiness and the confusion. And I do. Their drama is not mine, I just have to moderate it. And I have a great team helping me do so.
I guess in summation I would say that I’m learning to protect myself emotionally, much more so than I’ve ever had to do before. I think it will help me later on in my career, considering the field I want to go into (ooo new information to come). It’s hard, but worth it.
Care for others, but don’t forget to care about yourself.