I know, what am I even talking about! Mental health isn’t visible… isn’t that the problem? Or when it is something you notice… do you understand what the symptoms are, what the ticks, clues are. How to help or react? Is is something you worry about in yourself or a family member.
I was tasked with looking at whether social media is good for mental health as my feature in this weeks radio show. I normally do a shout out for people’s comments or stories for the show amongst my friends .. but I stopped. This was one subject I just didn’t feel comfortable asking of people. And yet I am a campaigner for visibility in mental health. Why then would I not want to offer people a platform to discuss their own experiences.
Because often the reason I know that someone else even has a mental health condition who isn’t already pretty close to me, is because it is being discussed in a closed group, in a safe environment. I want to normalise mental health discussions and I want to help people talk about it. And being able to discuss it in a safe group is the first step. I have writen a blog with my own struggles, but I am also secure in the knowledge that many of you don’t know me. And that you won’t bring it up with me. Because frankly when someone tells you they suffer with a mental health condition you want to know how to treat them. Are they telling you because they need to share it with someone or because you have been treating them in a way that isn’t cohesive with their condition and they want to help you understand so you can change how your interact with them ? Do you know anything about the condition, are you going to research it. Do you ask questions?
One thing I do continuously find myself battling with personally, is what do you share with people, I mean at what point to you stop being a little ‘weird’ or ‘quirky’ and start becoming a liability. When do people start looking at you with other eyes, when do they stop mentioning things, inviting you to things, at what point to you drop to the bottom of the list because you have ‘issues’.
Social media is a wonderful thing in this respect, because it stops you feeling so isolated, you can join groups, you can find people who understand, who have been on similar paths, who have words of wisdom or advice, somewhere free of judgement, or at least if there is, it isn’t from someone you need to interact with again. It can even just be a place to vent away from prying ears. Social media is fantastic as it has broken barriers, it has opened doors, it has meant that geography is just numbers on a map, that you don’t have to go out to talk to someone, that you have potentially people to talk to at a moments notice, if needed.
I love social media for these reasons, but on the other hand, it is incredibly isolating, not only for you, but for those around you. While you are emotionally investing in your new friends, who may live thousands of miles away, you are increasing the distance with your friends and family, co workers, peers, who are in close proximity but feel as if they are in a different galaxy. And conversely, may be able to share some of those same fears, and hopes that you are pouring into your virtual friendships.
Now, I am the first to say that the internet is not evil, it is a great tool, and does good things, but it can’t and won’t replace being able to pick up a phone, and invite someone out for a coffee. There is nothing really that will replace that social interaction and sometimes you genuinely need that human contact. If you are feeling isolated, or have moved to a new area, friends have moved into different phases of their life and don’t have time to meet, social media can be a great tool to meet new people. There has long been jokes about it being a dating site. Have a search on local groups, activities, see if there is anything you can join, be it a hobby you already have, an exercise class, or new skills. Being on social media often means people involved can start communicating and then it feels a little less daunting when you actually go to the group. You make new friends and learn new skills, or pick something up you didn’t do before.
So what I am trying to say, is that talking about mental illness is great, the only way to ‘normalise’ it in our society is to ensure that talking about it no no longer something we avoid, or find odd, difficult, or other. When we don’t talk about it, we never learn about it. Shutting it away makes it seem like a bad thing, something that should be covered up. And the internet is not only a powerful tool allowing you to seek advice, and find people who are empathise with you, to make connections. It is also a tool for people to educate themselves on mental health. We literally have all the information at our finger tips. We can and should educate ourselves. Be positive in all things.