Mental Health. I’m tired of hearing about it. Social media portrays mental health conditions as desirable: something that’s cool to have. That is a very toxic environment for people, especially teenagers, to grow up in.
A popular site that promotes, even glamourises, this is the infamous Tumblr. There are posts encouraging suicide, and claiming that the world would still go on. The non-existent ‘pros’ of suicide are somehow normalised and made attractive behind a screen.
Similarly, the recent television show Thirteen Reasons Why has been accused of promoting suicide. It was endlessly advertised on Netflix, and even with an 18 rating, there are reports of 13-14 year olds watching it. As a result, there have been a few recorded “copycat” cases since the show was released; young teenagers, some aged just 14, taking their lives in a similar way to that presented in the show.
When I was 15, I had some close friends who were going through mental health problems, such as depression. I had conversations with them in which they would tell me that you “can’t be depressed without feeling suicidal.” Now, this by all accounts is wrong, and I would argue it is even a result of excessive amounts of social media posts that have instilled this stereotype.
That is not to say “copycat” cases are self-indulgent means of attention seeking, rather that they are cries for help made seemingly accessible.
This is where the effort to de-stigmatise mental ill health can begin to tread on risky ground. The problem is that large amounts of information often overexposes people. However well intentioned, framing dangerous and damaging behaviour behind a filter and a hashtag on the web can have adverse effects. The portrayal is flawed or glamourised versions of the reality of these illnesses. OCD, for example, is more than just liking things in order. Depression is more than feeling sad. These narrow perceptions online can also cause further problems, such as self-diagnosing and social isolation, serving only to exacerbate the illness itself.
Take for example, the body positivity movement. I am all for people being comfortable in their own skin and wanting to express themselves, but there is a line: and that line is what is healthy. The movement on social media that encourages unhealthy people to be pleased with their bodies sets a dangerous precedence for future health problems.
Idealising a certain type of body, or level of confidence in that body, can also contribute to the development of other mental health issues, like body dysmorphia. Severely underweight bodies portrayed online can encourage anorexics. This is unsafe, and irresponsible.
Being blunt won’t work; too many people mistake it and take offence. The only way to fix the issues of romanticising and popularising mental health is to slowly reduce its presence on social media.
Every influencer on the planet wants to make their statement about how you should be “happy with your own life”. There are too many people stating opinions with very little scientific backing. There has been so much general discussion about mental health that it’s severity has been lost behind a screen. We must reduce the appearance of mental health on social media, and support those in getting the help they need and deserve.