When dealing with mental health issues, social media is something of a double edged sword. It has its pros, its ways of helping you heal and offer support, but it also comes with a huge array of cons and can often make things worse. I’ve experienced my fair share of both sides of this sword, making my personal relationship continuously switch between love and hate, often within the space of a few days.
For me Twitter was a god send when I had a breakdown at the start of the year, people encouraged me to speak openly and offered me a safe place to vent when I felt I had nowhere to go. It was incredibly therapeutic and made speaking to a doctor much easier than it has ever been in the past. A website dealing in 140 character thoughts of nonsense finally made me accept some of the issues I had been hiding for more than a decade. Who’d have thunk it. I’ve made decisions that have resulted in friends I’ve had IRL for years turn their backs on me, yet so many people were there to offer a virtual hand to pull me back up and help see me through until things improved.
I think there are a number of reasons Twitter is such a safe place to openly discuss your issues with mental health, for me the main was definitely the lack of people I actually knew on there. It is always easier to discuss the difficult, painful and seemingly impossible things in life with strangers. I don’t know why but it is. Generally it’s also easier to write these things down than to say them out loud, certainly for me anyway (clearly). Shouting about how much your brain is trying to destroy your life in 140 characters to complete strangers is a million times easier that sitting down and trying to have that conversation with the people closest to you. It also helps that you’re not alone, any day of the week my timeline is a cornucopia of various mental health problems, openly – and incredibly bravely – shared. When you see that other people can do it, you realise so can you. Admitting you’re falling apart becomes much easier to do when you know you’re not alone in that feeling.
There are, of course also many cons to social media when you’re fighting mental health problems. Recently MH seems to have become something of a competition online. Tweets condemning people that will ‘never understand’, subtle bitchiness, less so subtle bitchiness, the idea of a hierarchy of mental illness, fights over who’s open and frank blog about their struggle gets the most retweets. A place that encouraged so many of us to speak out and openly about the issues we face on a daily basis is going to lose that feeling of freedom. The idea that one person’s battle is more important, more real, more serious than another’s is completely counter-intuitive, yes, perhaps your anxiety erupts in an all out panic attack where you and those around you believe you’re dying while somebody else feels a little bit dizzy and carries on. That doesn’t mean you have more of a monopoly on mental health, you have no right to belittle that person. Mental health will never be a competition, if you notice somebody else struggling offer them a hand up, don’t judge them because their battle looks different to yours.
Another, and commonly discussed, issue with social media and mental health is the ever present feeling that you’re life isn’t enough, isn’t as much as everybody else’s. It can feel completely impossible not to compare your life to those filtered snapshots of a life you see on Instagram, but that’s just it, they’re snapshots. Go to your own profile now and have a quick scroll; it’s the good bits, a highlight reel, a filtered, edited, hint at a life you’re not really living. Everybody’s are the same way. Yes it’s hard when you’re sat in for the fourth Saturday night in a row and you see all your friends out living lives and having fun, but no night out clubbing is ever as shiny and fun as it appears through Valencia. Your life can feel a lot less than those that you see as you absentmindedly flick through your various apps, but nobody’s is exactly what you see. Everybody has shit days, everybody feels lonely, everybody feels fat and spotty and ugly. Even that girl with the perfect brows and the magnum of champagne and the 2000 more followers than you will ever achieve.
For me social media feeds my anxiety. I convince myself that shitty statuses are about me, I drive myself crazy over what it means when somebody has tweeted but still hasn’t opened my Whatsapp message, I stalk profiles of complete strangers because I convince myself that they hate me, I have invented entire affairs in my head over a Facebook like or a retweet. The paranoias and resentments I create for myself throw me deeper into the darkness, I know this, I know that it’s in my head and I know that I can and should make it easier on myself, but it’s like an addiction. I know clicking on her profile will make me feel like I’ve been punched in the gut and force me to flick through the imagined scenes of illicit affairs and sex down an alleyway. I still click though. Every time.
I’ve had friends mock me for seeming dramatic and deleting all my social media in a fit of anxiety, only to open them back up again a few days later. I’ve been told I’m doing it for attention or I’m being over sensitive, but sometimes we need a break from the apps that seemingly control our lives. We should have a break from them. Yes, deleting my Twitter account for five days may seem unnecessary, but sometimes it’s the only way I can give my brain a rest for a while.
Social media has it’s uses, I can without any doubt say that it has helped me face my mental health problems. Through it I have learnt that it’s ok to be broken and to talk about the battles faced openly and honestly is not only helpful but often healing. I’m not ashamed to admit that I have my own battles and issues, I couldn’t have said that before. I also got lucky and met some of the greatest people I’ve ever known through social media, people I strongly consider among my best friends now, so I can never help but be slightly biased towards believing it’s a wonderful thing.
Social media does however also have it’s dangers. I think it’s important that we remember that it isn’t real life though, when we see perfection online that isn’t the reality. When we feel dismissed and ignored by people we don’t know we need to remember that they are people we don’t know.
I could go on for hours flicking back and forth between feeling social media helps mental illness or makes it worse. I think in the end it can do both, it’s the dangerous friend who helps you put out a fire but will never admit to starting it. For me social media is about a balancing act, I’ve not quite got the balance right yet, but I’m aware of that and I’m trying to find it.
Social media is a place to share the best highlights of your life, but it can also be a place to share the absolute worst moments too. When it comes down to it, the main thing to remember is to try and separate the things we see, read and write online with the truth of our reality.