Whilst browsing the BBC news website, the following article caught my eye: ‘How social media helped me deal with my mental illness’ Before I had even read the article I predicted that it was going to be of particular interest to me, although I didn’t foresee how abundantly relatable it would prove. At the heart of it is an analysis of how important social media can be in dealing with mental illness, and how it can give a voice to people who are otherwise unable to express their thoughts or feelings. I won’t go into the article in too much depth, as I’d encourage you to read it through in your own time, but I did want to pick up on a couple of particular points that really struck me.
Sophie Hawker’s case study was particularly pertinent as I saw a reflection of myself within her words. For her social media was both a valuable information portal, and also an irreplaceable way of expressing herself. From my own personal experience of writing this blog, and its subsequent sharing through social media, I can attest that it has proven to be the most effective and advantageous way of expressing how I’m feeling, and allowing others an insight into my state of mind. Composing my thoughts on here also ensures that it becomes less of an issue talking about it with other people as they are already aware of how I’m feeling, and what struggles I’m going through. As Sophie perfectly puts it: “It gave me the confidence to talk about it in real life because I’d already practised talking about it online. I’d learnt more about it too, so I felt I could explain it to people a bit more.”
Sophie also touches upon another significant point when she discloses that “I found people of a similar age with similar interests who had experienced it at a similar time in their lives and that was really beneficial.” I’ve been surprised and gratified with the number of comments I’ve received from people in a similar situation to myself, and its especially rewarding when people declare that its a relief to read about someone who reflects their own circumstances. I’ve been especially touched by comments from contributors stating that my words have helped them in some way, and that makes me feel incredibly proud. Social media really causes you to be aware, more than any other time in the past, of how many people suffer from mental illness, and how you are not even remotely alone, even though you may think you are. It gives an outlet which 15-20 years ago would never have been possible, and I’m perturbed by how people with mental health issues were able to connect with other people in similar situations in ‘pre-internet’ days, and consequently I wonder at how many people slipped under the radar (perhaps fatally) through lack of an outlet the like of which exists today.
Madelaine also expresses similar beliefs, stating that “it was easier on social media to talk about it. There would be times at university when I would feel anxious and I wouldn’t tell my friends but I would tweet. I’d feel more confident saying it there.” If social media allows people to open up when they otherwise would not be able to, then it can only be a positive endeavor, and it not only benefits the individual, but is also a great way to educate those friends, family, colleagues etc about the illness, and provides a much more informative alternative to merely browsing an NHS Direct article. This is about real people and real lives.
Finally, I wanted to touch upon the responses people gave in the article to the question of what aspect of mental health they wanted to talk about (through the app Yik Yak). Here are some of the responses presented: