Elefriends is a mental health social network, managed by the mental health charity Mind. It aims to provide a supportive online community for people aged 18 and over to chat about their lives, including their mental health, and be themselves. The name ‘Elefriends’ refers to mental health being the ‘elephant in the room’.
The community started on Facebook, but outgrew the space, and now has around 40,000 members. The setup of the site was supported by the Cabinet Office's Social Action Fund (now known as the Centre for Social Action).
Access to the site is by log in only, and professionals are able to use the site in a personal capacity only. Members of the community are referred to as ‘elefriends’ and the site is supported by the ‘Ele handlers’ who moderate content, and offer signposting and guidance on using the site safely. Ele handlers are available from 10am to midnight, Monday-Friday and from 10am to 2pm and 5pm to midnight at weekends. There is a team of handlers - they all sign off their messages "Sam (Ele handler)" to respond consistently to elefriends.
An important part of the site’s success has been having clear guidelines to ensure that the space remains safe (http://elefriends.org.uk/house-rules). These are co-produced with the community and set out what users can expect from their fellow elefriends, as well as from Ele handlers, and also include tips about posting safely and taking care of your mental health.
One user of the site, Helen, describes how finding Elefriends supported her, and reignited her passion for running after the weight gain and numbness following a change of medication really tripped her up:
Finally I’d found a space for lost souls all supporting and caring for each other. No more disapproval, no judgement, no hate or misunderstandings. Slowly I started to grow in confidence to posting how I was feeling and helping others with kind, caring, thoughtful words. I truly started to make friends that cared for me and what I was posting. I slowly started to notice the kind of support - It wasn't resentful, it was genuine and it built my confidence to start battling the darkness. Reading positive posts inspires you to do the same thing – to take small steps and get encouragement from others for doing it. And that feels great.
One lonely day I turned to the Elefriends to keep me company and there on the main wall was a very inspiring post by my now friend Vikki. It jumped from the screen and said to me, “you can do this too”. Vikki was looking for Elefriends to start running with: to offer support and motivation to each other and to complete the Couch to 5k running program – this was my chance to start again and to inspire others.
So I was running again. The feeling was amazing, buzzing with a positive feeling of gratitude to Vikki, my dear Elefriend who started with a brave small step of asking a simple question. I am grateful because I'm now on my way to 5km and who knows just maybe my first marathon.