LIFESTYLE
24/04/2015 05:17 BST | Updated 24/04/2015 05:59 BST

'We Help And Support Each Other': This Social Networking Site Helps Thousands To Break Out Of Isolation And Depression

When depression takes hold, those caught in its grips can feel increasingly isolated.

The mental health condition is not uncommon - in fact, roughly 8-12% of the population will experience depression in any given year - so it's safe to say that it was only a matter of time before somebody took the initiative to set up a social media site connecting sufferers.

Taking what could be considered a negative and making something incredibly positive from it, Friends In Need (FIN) was born.

support friends

The idea behind FIN is that people with depression can join the online community and use their experiences of mental health to help one another through difficult times - often by reducing their feelings of isolation.

Carol, 54, joined the network after becoming increasingly lonely. Speaking to HuffPost UK Lifestyle, she reveals that joining the community has been something of a journey for her.

When she joined FIN, Carol says that she was "relieved to find others who had experienced, and were experiencing, a lot of the things I had myself".

FIN​ prides itself on being a "supportive community for anyone affected by depression". People can sign-up for free and connect with others online based on their shared interests (kind of like online dating, but building supportive friendships instead).

To make it a less isolated experience - because, let's face it, being sat behind your computer screen all day isn't the greatest way to curb loneliness - users can then attend or set up their own local meetings.

Before joining FIN, Carol would spend her weekends sleeping in, sitting around the house, doing chores or briefly catching up with friends. Her dwindling social life made her unhappy and she began to compare herself to others, which made things ten times worse: "I was constantly hearing about other people's holidays, what they'd done to their houses, how well their kids were doing.

"I felt I was failing on quite a number of levels."

To combat her loneliness, Carol set up the ‘Liverpool Libs’ group in the hope that she would meet like-minded people who she could talk to about her experiences. People who could relate.

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The Liverpool Libs now meet once a week - usually on Saturdays between 11am and 4pm. Typically, the group will catch up over coffee, go to the theatre, visit a restaurant or even attend mindfulness classes.

"We don't need to impress each other, we try to be non-judgmental of ourselves and others," says Carol. "We talk about depression and anxiety 'issues' but also have a laugh and a joke."

The FIN network, which was launched by mental health charity Depression Alliance, has over 12,000 members and, so far, appears to be having a positive impact.

Caroline, who is another member of the Liverpool Libs, says that the relationships she's built through FIN have been invaluable to her: "The meet-ups have been very important for me. I’ve had problems with anxiety, particularly social anxiety since adolescence.

"Although I’ve had great opportunities in life, social anxiety has held me back, I’ve always struggled to trust people and develop and maintain friendships and relationships in general which has had a knock-on effect on both my personal and working life."

She adds that socialising in groups was also something she'd come to avoid "like the plague", especially as she aged. Despite trying to meet new people through different social groups - she tried walking groups and evening classes - her shyness always seemed to get in the way.

"With Libs it’s so refreshing for me to finally feel part of a group where I feel included and valued and I can just be myself - moods included," Caroline adds.

"We help and support each other, which gives us a firm base of support to take with us into our daily lives."

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There are, of course, limitations to the meet-ups as they can be difficult to organise - often due to lack of money or time constraints. But they've proven to be worth the fuss.

And for those who aren't heartened by the prospect of meeting up with strangers, the site itself has proven to be great for enabling people with depression to support one another through tough times.

"By staying with the site and taking time to connect with others, I have found a wealth of knowledge," says Carol. "Personally I don't like to talk to strangers on the end of a phone but the anonymity of FIN helps me cope.

"There are no magic answers for depression but the FIN Community can provide so much information on what has worked for and helped others.

"It can be hard-going sometimes as there are a lot of sad stories out there, as well as people who post who are near to the end of their tether, but in all honestly it is a relief to know there is somewhere I could go if things got too bad."