Social media backfired on me, but it also gave me my life back
by Susan Page, Guest Blogger
There once was a time in my life when I felt like I could connect with everyone and everything in the same way that billions do on social media outlets everyday. But when it came to my mental health condition, social media backfired on me. I began to use social media in an irresponsible way and the act of participating in social media was one of the things that prevented me from finding help. Amongst a plethora of information, social connections, and picture sharing, social media can create a skewed image of one’s self image, diminish understanding and thoughtfulness towards others, create inauthentic expression of feelings, and, most of all, hinder emotional connections to others. However it can also be a powerful tool for change–allowing people to raise awareness and end stigma towards mental health and people with mental illness, on a large scale. In other words, social media can both negatively and positively affect people with mental health conditions.
When we are struggling, we all want to feel included without being around people and that is what social media gives us on a silver platter. Social media portrays most as having a life without any problems. It conveys inauthentic expression even when one is expressing a struggle in their life. It is easy to tell ourselves everything is okay and to keep our unexplainable problems to ourselves when we see that sharing unexplainable distress is not considered ‘cool’. When I started to truly try and come to terms with the fact that something was preventing me from functioning on a daily basis, the only word that I could think of was that I was ‘CRAZY’ and that scared me. To show no weakness is something every human being learns despite what culture or ethnicity you relate to. This means that even when we are struggling, it is just as easy to act as though nothing is wrong. No one could tell I was hurting because I was able to take cues from the people around me and learned how to do the simplest things, like smile, when all I wanted to do was cry. Social media showed me continual reminders of how we are expected to act as part of society and it did not welcome my unstable mental state.
We have to end stigma around mental health. This can happen if we use social media to spread mental health awareness around the world. Social media can help people with mental health needs in many ways too, including giving them the ability to disarm stigmas, connect with others experiencing similar challenges, and easily spread health information from reputable sources. While I personally did not feel comfortable on social media or use websites for help when I was in crisis, I firmly believe that it is saving lives by providing quick and easy information for those who are looking for help. We need to create a world where people are familiar with the symptoms of mental illness and the real life stories of those living with mental health conditions.
For me, at my undiagnosed worst, I lived in a fantasy world. I shared that world on social media and it created great personal challenges for me. But now that I have the appropriate diagnosis and treatment, I have begun sharing my authentic experience with bipolar disorder through writing, and it’s had an incredible affect on my life, and the lives of others. I have experienced the positive outcomes that social media can give to those who struggle with a mental illness. Here is a comment from a recent post of mine on the International Bipolar Foundation blog: “I identify with a lot of this article. For a long time I did the same thing, and it is difficult to admit to. Only recently have I really started to live in the real world and it is all thanks to the discovery of fitness and sport in my life”. Comments like this inspire me to write more about my battle with bipolar.
One post I wrote reached over 23,000 people in the first week that it was shared on Facebook. I do not have a Facebook or Twitter because of personal reasons, but the organizations I write for use social media to share my writing with those who are where I once was, and to help them find hope and inspiration. Because of the stigma, approaching anyone with worrisome symptoms that may suggest one has a mental health need is difficult, but I ask everyone to be open to the unimaginable and use social media to help people that you love.
Use social media to share your story. What better time to start than Mental Health Awareness Month?! If you are worried about the stigma, share your story on blogs like Young Minds Advocacy Project’s ‘Hear Me Out’, an organization that is all for fighting the stigma against mental illness. Social media gave my life back by allowing me to share my story. More stories are waiting to be shared, too.