Cathal is an author and campaigner for better mental health services in Ireland.
Over the course of mental health week, we will all be exposed to messages around mental health, particularly online and through social media. Whilst these posts and words of encouragement are, for the most cases, intended to help, it is possible that they may be counter-productive to our mental health.
With no regulation in place, any person from any walk of life can talk about mental health, particularly through social media. Whilst some opinions express these people are a minority, individuals will increasingly post unfiltered messages around mental health that may be distressing, not just for individuals experiencing mental health difficulty but for any of us who use social media.
Cyberbullying is becoming an increasingly difficult hurdle for Facebook, Twitter and Instagram whilst they are receiving pressure from all stakeholders to start treating it more seriously with the suggestion of some kind of regulation in place which is an entirely separate issue however must online bullying must be mentioned.
“Any awareness is good awareness”. It’s something we hear every single day with mental health messages however it is a phrase I don’t entirely agree with. Whilst we do need to de-stigmatize mental illnesses, we are increasingly observing a softening of the mental health narrative worldwide from organisations, individuals and advocates alike. Organisations are increasingly using the importance of mental health as a marketing strategy to promote the company itself and I would view it as a tokenistic approach, particularly by the multinationals. Whist they acknowledge the importance of mental health, stress is still the number one health issue flagged by all employees.
With regards the softening of the narrative, I am referring to the go prompts such as “Be kind to yourself”, “Talk about your mental health” or other fluffy types of messages calling for people to be more aware of their mental health. We need to draw the line on the content of messages and be mindful where and when we choose to listen to mental health advice. Whilst these messages may provide a certain level of comfort, I believe they are crowding our media channels.
Putting a plaster on an issue and hoping it will go away is not the solution to any mental health issue. We see plenty of awareness around talking about mental health online however are we putting this into practice? For an over stigmatised issue, maybe we need to be selective where we talk about our mental health and possibly speaking directly to a professional, the same as you would do with a broken bone in your body.
There is an increase in mental health issues, particularly as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic however one liner memes are simply not enough for people struggling with their mental health. For such a complex subject that remains stigmatized, maybe we need to change the content of some of the subject matter as it does not seem to be working. I believe it is time to change the focus of the narrative, possibly reverting to a traditional approach with a focus on the services that are available in the community as a preventative measure as well distinguishing between who we are listening to for mental health advice. We are now conflicted as to who we should be listening to for advice.
On one hand, psychiatry remains a controversial issue for many whilst on the other hand we have an ‘advocate’ presence that exists online. I believe the online movement of advocates and mental health so called support groups (who are giving advice in the area) are fuelling further mental health issues as they are giving advice that is in no way regulated. At what point do we realise that not all awareness is good. Unfortunately, vulnerable social media users are more susceptible to being led astray and the issue needs to be highlighted, particularly by mental health professionals.
Mental health can be a bleak subject, yes. Statistics and hard-hitting facts are not always easy to hear which I appreciate however we must not get complacent in what we are attempting to create awareness around exactly. There should be more focus in the message. Whilst I believe in self-care, I think it gets thrown around by all of us, myself included. When someone is actually faced with a mental health difficulty, self-care is often thrown out the window, particularly if the individual is distressed and experiencing a psychotic episode or an acute problem. The person in distress may than feel isolated in that they are not practicing this “self-care” properly.
I empathise with people who are promoting messages but do not know how to negotiate a mental health narrative. It is no easy task as it such a sensitive subject. But again, we owe a responsibility to ourselves to remain alert and more mindful in choosing what we share and where we share it. I feel this is an important, underlying issue and is the root cause of many mental health problems presently however I foresee it becoming a larger issue into the future if we don’t start changing the conversation both online and in conversation with our friends.