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'Depression bloggers': Going online for their mental health

Lori Mocha's blog has gone through several name changes since she started blogging four years ago, including "Lormo, Inc.," "Lori Mocha Loves You" and "Ice Cold Mocha."

Lately, the northeast Minneapolis blogger has been using the title "Depression & Laughs" because "happiness" makes her "uncomfortable."

"If things go well, I hope the blog can become 'Stability and Laughs,'" she quipped, when asked about the title.

The freelance designer's personality is on display throughout the effervescent site. The blog features everything from edgy line-by-line analysis of absurd rap lyrics to bratty, Dear Abby-style responses to her readers calls for relationship and family advice. ("Like I've said before, you should never feel guilty about avoiding your parents. You didn't ask to be born," Mocha told one reader who was having parental boundary issues.)


But the title of her blog is more than just a catch phrase. It's extracted from a personal battle with depression that has spilled over into her public life online. She believes her struggles give her license to write on the topic, and humor is the perfect vehicle.

"If you can't laugh, you cry," she explained. "I enjoy crying, but I'd rather laugh."

She's not alone
Mocha's bold approach to openly writing about her occasional emotional struggles makes her part of a growing group of "depression bloggers" around the country.

For years, doctors have suggested that patients struggling with depression turn to journals to write about their feelings. Consider Mocha's blog and the dozens of other blogs on the same topic around the Web as a 21st century version of a diary that many of us kept under our pillow. The difference, of course, is that this it is wide-open for the world to read.

Lori Mocha
Courtesy of Lori Mocha
Lori Mocha

"It is definitely becoming trend," said Dr. John M. Grohol, founder of PsychCentral.com, who has rated the "Top 10 depression blogs."

Grohol started the first large-scaleonline mental health self-help support community and social network in 1996 and helped bring one of the first online therapy clinics to popularity in 2000.

Writing about very personal experiences and feelings has always drawn readers on the Web. Celebrated blogger Heather Armstrong — she has been called the most popular personal blogger on the Internet — takes this approach at Dooce.com and recently published her memoir, "It Sucked and Then I Cried: How I Had a Baby, a Breakdown, and a Much Needed Margarita,"

Grohol said that blogging can be a healthy form of expression because it mimics the therapy process in some ways.

People are able to receive feedback and support on their feelings through comments, much like a therapist would offer a patient. And just like advice from a therapist, bloggers will often tune into the comments that feel right to them and reject the ones that don't.

Mocha concurs. "From writing about it, lots of people have opened up to me about their own struggles and I love that," she said.

However, someone struggling with depression shouldn't just begin pouring themselves into to a blog and hope for healing without understanding the risks. Grohol said if people need to realize that by blogging about depression, they are putting personal health information online for future employers and health care insurance providers to find.

"With sites like Facebook and blogs, your online identity is your own personality, they are not detached anymore. It's taking people a while to learn the limitations of the new technology," he said.

Grohol said he would recommend blogging to some of his patients, and likes Mocha's use of comedy for dealing with the sensitive issue.

"Humor is an important part of our lives and I certainly think that you could argue bringing it to serious topics may make them more digestible for people," he said.

Place plays role
While Mocha's blog doesn't veer far beyond "text-on-a-page-and-an-occasional photo" use of Blogspot, her disobedient writing voice is delightfully original and clearly influenced by her surroundings.

Originally from Minnesota, Mocha spent five years living in Brooklyn with "stars in her eyes," after tying up a degree in psychology from the University of Wisconsin Eau-Claire.

"New York will kick your ass," she said bluntly. "It ain't for the faint of heart, and I started to feel a bit faint."

She eventually returned to Minneapolis. Her writing again began to reflect her uneven feelings for life on the prairie.

"I always feel really anxious about discussing my true feelings about Minneapolis," she explained. "Not all of my feelings are good and natives get upset by that."

While she occasionally rounds the corners of her thoughts about the North Star State on her blog, she does have an outlet for the venom that comes with having to live in a place where the weather can be unbearable.

Mocha writes a regular blog on the San Antonio Current's Web site as the only editor in the alt-newsweekly's Minneapolis bureau. 

"Our Minneapolis streets are rough, you guys. Here we have had a man killed by a snow plow," she wrote recently. "So, not only might you freeze to death here, you also might get run down by a snow plow WHILE freezing to death."

The gig that doesn't pay anything. But it includes links back to her blog from a major-market news organization, which can be valuable for driving traffic to her start-up Depression & Laughs. Blog.

As with many part-time bloggers, making money off of a blog is the ultimate goal for Mocha. She's not there yet.

So for now, Mocha leans on her blog as an outlet, an extension of her internal self that meets her needs for immediacy and attention.

"I blog for the love. By love, I mean comments," she said. "I love comments."

Justin Piehowski writes Minnesota Blog Cabin, a review of what's going on in the Minnesota blogosphere, and is a content coordinator for Internet Broadcasting. He can be reached at jpiehowski [at] minnpost [dot] com.

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