Today’s rise in mental health awareness goes hand in hand with the widespread use of social media. With this rise of social media comes a questioning of its ethics.
How does social media reflect our reality? Accurately? Helpfully? Or does it amplify our flaws and hurt us more than it helps?
In the case of social media’s relationship with mental health, this question becomes especially pertinent. While social media provides a new platform to speak on people’s experiences and resolves some stigma, it also opens its own can of worms.
On the positive side, social media creates a space for education. Beyond depression and anxiety, there’s a whole spectrum of mental illness and neurodevelopmental disorders that have historically been stigmatized and oppressed.
Before social media, having a mental illness was treated as a joke, and real people felt the weight of the punchline. These new platforms bring awareness to issues people have never thought of before, provides a realistic view of what mental health can look like, educates them on the proper ways to discuss mental health, and facilitates more sensitivity all around.
On the other hand, with awareness comes misinformation. While experienced mental health advocates provide accurate information on mental health, there are more amateurs in the field than there are experts—people who are likely to misunderstand the information they hear.
Sometimes, this misinformation is deliberate, as the stigma around mental illnesses still exists in many spaces. No amount of awareness will change the minds of people who prioritize jokes and entertainment over the lives and feelings of real people.
Mental health is a hot topic, and the widespread discussion around it has led to some institutional change—workplaces and universities are bringing mental health mindfulness into their policies.
But there’s still a deep-rooted history of mental health being stigmatized. Less romanticized conditions, like narcissistic personality disorder, is still ascribed to morality.
If you glance at TikTok, you can find a whole set of videos where people with no expertise in the field are diagnosing others with bipolar disorder or narcissistic personality disorder, which ascribes bad behaviour as symptoms of mental illness.
Pretending to be an expert in a highly nuanced field harms everyone in the process. Diagnosing others around you leads to further stigmatization of those illnesses because that “diagnoses” purports false beliefs about the illness in question.
Social media brings awareness to the issue of mental health, but makes it vulnerable to misinformation and the misuse of terms.
Despite these dangers, the biggest pro of social media’s amplification of mental health is solidarity and access. Social media users can find whole communities of people with similar experiences and shared feelings who’ve dealt with the rollercoaster that may be their mental health.
One of the best things social media has brought us is a sense of interconnection and community. People across continents can meet and connect. Social media gives everyone around the world access to the advice and wisdom of people with a variety of experiences.
A depressed teenager can see and understand the message of hope coming from someone who came out of their depression. People can show each other coping mechanisms and offer compassion from a place of experience, alleviate fears of navigating the healthcare system, or give helpful warnings.
Social media can be, and often has been, very toxic. The harassment and abuse it provides needs to be talked about and managed, but if you’re careful and mindful, social media can act as a gateway to better understanding what mental health is and how to help your own.
It’s not perfect—it does not make you an expert—but hearing first-person accounts of mental health experiences is a huge first step in broadening our understanding of mental health and how to properly discuss and manage it.
Awareness, Education, Mental health, Social media, stigma
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