It is far into May already, and I have yet to observe this month as one for National Mental Health Awareness. Silly me. Luckily others have taken notice and have brought light to this important time.
Except…sometimes I don’t know how I feel about it. Of course, I appreciate any effort people take to bring attention to mental health. Earlier this week I even read an article in USA Today about mental health services on college campuses, an encouraging sign that it’s a growing issue we cannot help but discuss.
Another form of support and attention is actually just right at our fingertips. Instagram is trying to help users find more support on its platform by having certain hashtags dedicated to people and groups that help those in need. Apparently, searching for a hashtag like #HereforYou will bring up results that break through the expected facade of social media for more intimate, helpful posts.
It’s no secret that social media isn’t the healthiest pastime to depend upon. It can be depressing to look at photos of others out doing amazing, fun activities with others. Of course you’re happy for others just enjoying life, but it’s very easy to have this acknowledgement turn into comparison. Even when it’s normal to have “FOMO,” the fear of missing out, the phenomenon is extremely isolating.
And what is isolation known for leading to? Anxiety of not doing enough with your life. Feeling hopeless about it. Not to mention how mental illness is often portrayed on social media as “trendy” or “glamorous.” A sadness that isn’t crippling. A problem that is simultaneously tragic and beautiful. Sorry, but if you’re feeling especially depressed or anxious, you probably won’t feel like posting at all unless you’re mooching others for sympathy which won’t help anybody.
We’re still biased. We still use filters before sharing with others. Many other platforms besides Instagram have begun including tools that anonymously flag any content that appears emotionally troubling. By enabling users to project the highlights of their lives, while ignoring the lower moments, social media likely contributes to feelings of depression, anxiety, and stress, particularly in young teens still trying to understand themselves and their emotions. Trust me, if I had this much social media at my disposal throughout my high school years, I’d be asking for trouble.
I don’t want to sound too critical. I am beyond glad that social media is using its great potential for good causes. But I don’t think that it’s enough, at least in this case. I mean, Instagram isn’t exactly the leader in actual conversation, which I think is much more productive. A lot of what we’ve tried to do thus far in breaking the stigma is more passive, despite using social media to communicate it. 140 characters doesn’t fully get the point across. Watching one video probably won’t change your outlook on depression or anxiety.
But it’s certainly an opportunity to start a conversation, to spark an idea for more. It’s wonderful to find people physically out of reach who you can connect with on a vulnerable level. We’re in a different era than even ten years ago when talking to others online was a recipe for disaster. Now we don’t even question it. We are less hesitant opening up about our struggles for anybody with a wireless connection can see. My blog would be nothing that it is without me letting down my guard and openly discussing my most painful moments.
As a writer, I’m biased toward long-form prose to express myself. Others might gravitate toward music or art or whatever else floats their boats. But I do have to question how these other mediums might affect others. Since there is more individual interpretation involved, less words overtly said, do we fully realize what might be behind a song or painting? Even when I’m rambling on about my feelings, I cannot fully explain my thoughts. So I expect nothing less with an Instagram post, no matter how artistic or “raw.” We might feel something when looking at a photograph, but how often do we act on it? Rarely. We keep scrolling. And we still see a majority of content that is usually surface-level.
Social media, as I’ve said numerous times, is a double-edged sword. Perhaps it can provide the necessary connections for learning more and spreading a positive message, but it shouldn’t be relied upon as an end-all solution. It’s a noteworthy effort that, while with good intentions, ignores the explicit association between social media and mental illness. Real life is not always “worthy” of being on an Instagram story (do people even use those? And if so, why?) or sharing with lots of friends expecting to receive a flood of “like” notifications. It probably feels worse to take the time to post something and receive less like’s than expected. Or compare like and follower numbers to others. It really is a mess when you think about it.
The quicker we can amplify the mental health movement beyond hashtags into other forums for active change and acknowledgement, the better off we’ll be. Social media posts tend to end up in a hamster wheel, creating some conversation but always fading away and remaining stagnant. We cannot afford to let mental health fade away as if it’s a trendy topic. We need conversation and action. Once we take mental health stigma to our real lives, I’d say I would be truly #blessed.
Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie