Social media has been a major player in blasting open the conversation surrounding mental health. This week alone has seen millions of tweets of acceptance and support as those with mental health issues have shared their experiences on Twitter. Social media undoubtedly gives those who may ordinarily suffer in silence the freedom to share and open up about how they are feeling.
It’s well documented that social media can have a negative effect on a person’s emotional wellbeing. On the flipside, we know social media supports the mental health cause as a whole by bringing a taboo topic to the forefront. But does it help or hinder the individual who suffers daily?
That depends on the individual, of course.
I live with depression. I live with anxiety. I struggle to talk to people face to face as confidence issues set me back. I know my mental health is important so I talk about it. Or at least I do now. For a long time I didn’t. I suffered as many do, in silence – alone, unnecessarily.
I spiralled into the maddening world of postnatal depression and anxiety after our second baby was born. My mental health was not in the best place in the years before this, but her birth was a catalyst like no other. In the following months, when I should have been excited and happy, rejoicing in new-baby smells and waiting for milestones, I was in a dark place that can only be described as despair.
I wanted – no, I needed – to run away. I desperately craved to disappear and abandon everything I loved but the maternal necessity to stay kept me rooted in a box that felt dark, disjointed and broken. As a result my anger exploded, with just a baby and a four-year-old to feel my anguish when my other half was at work.
My anxiety changed my personality. It changed how I coped with everyday tasks. It made our home an unhappy place. And I wasn’t talking.
Since my escape was impossible I needed a void to spit my worry and my pain into. My anxiety, my depression, were not going to vanish and I needed help. I needed to start my own conversation.
The void I found was Twitter – or at least I thought it was a void. Turns out Twitter is not an entirely soulless place with empty words and empty hearts. People listen. I was being heard. And something shifted.
On days when I struggled badly with anxiety, I picked up my phone and tweeted. I let the world know that I felt as though the ground underneath me was disappearing, that I was drowning, that the pain was unbearable. I was honest about those crippling days. I realised that I did not have to feel so alone when it seemed like someone was listening. Even if it was temporary, it was an outlet.
I wrongly believed that those tweets would disappear into the onslaught of words that ordinarily come flying at you on your timeline. People saw them. Better than that, people commented and suddenly I was having conversations with others about the one thing that was dragging me down. I was supported from a distance while I felt the tightness crush my chest.
These conversations are countless on Twitter with simple hashtags like #MentalHealth and #MentalHealthAwareness being used daily. With one in four people suffering mental health issues in the UK and 350 million people worldwide, the stigma that surrounds mental health is being shot down with social media. We’re opening up. We’re being heard. We’re finding a way to say: “It’s OK not to be OK.”
The annual #BellLetsTalk hashtag raised over C$6.9m (£3.9m) for mental health issues in Canada and saw over 138 million tweets fly through the Twitterverse on 31 January. The #SemiColonProject visualises a very real condition that should no longer be taboo. And #TimeToTalk ensured the conversation was wide open on Twitter on 1 February.
Choosing to jump in and talk is the issue. And not just on Twitter, but in real life.
But when does social media start to have a negative effect on someone with mental health issues? When the notifications come rolling in and it’s difficult to keep up? When no notifications come in and isolation and loneliness becomes overwhelming? When the balance is blurred? Social media brings a constant need for approval and acceptance which is not necessarily what someone who is suffering with anxiety and depression needs.
For many, the faceless and sometime nameless social media platform has allowed them to be honest and truthful with how they feel. Being free to share inner thoughts without fear of judgement or ridicule is vital and Twitter can give many that freedom.
For others, the openness can leave them feeling bare and vulnerable as well-meaning followers share their story, give advice and tell them it’s ok when really they don’t feel like it’s ok.
Balancing depression with social media, I believe, is positive on the whole, as the conversation is blown wide open. Those of us who suffer often feel the support around them. But it can be negative for an individual who feels added pressure, as it seems as though the world’s problems are landed on their shoulders.
We all know social media is addictive and this can be a real problem issue. I’ve even found myself stuck under my phone, not being able to find the balance, unable to tear myself away from it. Refreshing my notifications became almost automatic. I needed to talk and I needed connection with others. I needed the temporary satisfaction of likes and retweets. But knowing that there are others out there feeling the same was a relief in some way.
So does it help? It’s subjective.
For me, it did. I found answers in like-minded people. But more importantly, after I started my conversation on Twitter, I spoke to a counsellor. I spoke to my husband. I opened up. I recognised how I was feeling. I got help.
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