Sunday, 16 February 2020

SOCIAL MEDIA & MENTAL HEALTH




Initially, I was worried that lots of readers will think that it’s quite wrong of me to write a blog post about the most recent celebrity suicide because I’ve actually heard of the celebrity (Caroline Flack) this time; but it’s more about the assumed cause of the suicide; trolling and social media in general. I’m not weighing in on things because I won’t pretend that I know a lot about the entire situation, it’s just that it has inspired me to write a blog post about social media, coping with trolling, thoughts on suicide, and why I promote social media despite all of this negativity and this horrific influence it can have on a person’s life.


I think that a lot of people will assume I might never have had a bad experience with social media if I’m so determined to tell people how great it is and convince others to utilize all of the good it holds; but that isn’t true. When I was fifteen, a group of girls at High School began bullying me and one of their methods was through MSN messenger (bit of a throwback!) because it meant that the bullying could continue even into the comfort of my own bedroom. They weren’t limited to snide, spiteful comments in the corridor or spreading rumours among the other pupils. Social media meant that they could harass me when I was just sitting at home or playing on the computer, where I thought I was safe from them. Somewhere that – I thought – was my only escape, actually turned out to be at their easiest reach.

As upsetting as the bullying was, I didn’t stop using the internet and social media; if anything, I started using it more because I began looking for support groups and other people who’d been through bullying. By this point, the abuse had started and I felt that if I opened up to someone about the bullying then I’d also end up telling them all about the abuse – something which had many reasons to stop me talking about it. My desperate search for help on the internet led me to Samaritans and I began emailing them to talk through the prospect of reporting the bullying to a teacher at School.

Eventually, their support strengthened me and I told my Mum what was happening, by the time one of the teachers at School actually agreed to do something about it, the bullies seemed to have gotten bored from my refusal to respond/react and moved on to torment someone else. At that age and with such little talk about mental health and bullying in the media, I didn’t realize how lucky I’d been to have not had any violent bullying (it was all verbal) and for it to have not persisted as long as it sometimes can and to have done the damage to me that bullying has the potential to cause. Now – particularly after the 2015 movie; Cyberbully and the Netflix series; 13 Reasons Why – we know that bullying can take many different forms and can all too often result in a person taking their own life in a desperate bid to escape it.


I suppose some people will think that this experience of online bullying would dissuade me from starting a blog where I pour my heart out and talk about my deepest, darkest thoughts and feelings; not encourage me to. I had many motivations for starting I’m NOT Disordered but one was definitely defying the many people who tried – in so many different ways – to discourage me from doing so. I’m definitely one of those people who has the mindset of wanting to prove people who doubt me, or the things that I believe in, wrong. Sometimes that can get tiring though; putting all of your effort into defying others, and I think that’s what happened when I got a comment on a blog post not long after I first started blogging, it was about World Suicide Prevention Day and the comment wished me luck with my next attempt. I don’t know if maybe it was one of those ‘straw-that-broken-the-camel’s-back’ moments and I closed my blog down because it was just the final challenge to blogging that I could tolerate.



I massively missed I’m NOT Disordered though and was lost without a place to keep all of my thoughts and feelings, somewhere to provide an outlet. So, within months, I had started it back up again and this time I had a stronger backbone and little regard for anyone else’s opinions on my content and my mental health in general. Mental health is such a notoriously vulnerable area of a person’s life that’s well and truly open to bullying, and that’s a large reason why most people find it so hard to speak up about their own struggles and publicly talk about their mental health. Fear of judgment and of stigma.

It’s almost ironic (in a definitely not funny way!) that the one forum that’s actually ideal for talking about your mental health, is also the one that puts people off doing that very thing. Whether you’ve been bullied online or not, the media’s coverage on the amount of suicides linked to being trolled (Caroline Flack being a prime example) is often enough to convince someone to resist the urge of being open and honest about their mental health.


I say that social media is an ideal place because it’s so undiscriminating about it’s users; absolutely anyone and everyone who is able to use a technological device (phone, iPad, computer…) can create an account on any of the multitude of social media platforms available today. It literally doesn’t matter where you are in the world (so long as there’s an internet connection!), what colour your skin is, what your religious belief is, what your sexual orientation is… all of the things that usually single people out from so many opportunities just doesn’t apply when it comes to things like Facebook and Twitter! It creates an ample opportunity to communicate with a huge variety of people, which brings a higher chance of people relating to what you post. And the more people relate, the less alone you feel. I think that loneliness is a particularly powerful emotion in mental health and believing that no one knows what you’re going through and how you’re feeling can have a huge impact on your thoughts and create a negative outlook on life and society. When I was being abused, it didn’t matter how many reasons I had for not reporting what was happening to me, the fact that I had no one to talk to about it left me feeling so completely alone that I often wondered if I was the only person in the world going through what I was experiencing. I had many motivations at that time to feel suicidal, and loneliness was definitely one them.


Speaking out on social media isn’t right for everyone though, and as opposite as that is to me and my thought processes, I understand that. I have some friends and family who’re very private people and don’t like to be mentioned in my posts on any of my social media accounts, and as hard as I sometimes find it to not tag them in things that I find important; I respect their mindset and maintain their privacy. I guess I do a good job of it because those people still trust me and confide in me, and that means a great deal to me but sometimes… some of them have had experiences that other people might have been through and they’re things that – I think – could be shared because I believe they could be helpful and reassuring to others. There are things these people could say on social media that might stop at least one other person feeling lonely but to them, that isn’t the point. Sometimes I understand this and sometimes I don’t; probably in the same way that these people struggle to comprehend why I would talk about hugely personal issues to over half a million people!


Aside from trolling/online bullying, another aspect of social media that people are concerned with in regard to mental health is the information available. Namely the huge movement in promoting eating disorders (I’m not going to write the name of it because that’s just extra help for someone to go find it!) and encouraging those with those disorders to find inspiration in the unhealthy behaviours others use. There’s also a form of this in self-harm; with a number of groups popping up on Facebook where this unhealthy and unsafe coping skill is promoted, and photos and methods are shared amongst group members. Someone once took a quote from I’m NOT Disordered and manipulated it to seem as though I was promoting self-harm and reassuring others that it is helpful as a coping mechanism. Of course, I got very angry and reported the comment to have it removed because I would never want to be associated with such an attitude and movement. There has to be a balance in talking about self-harm and suicide so that its existence can be raised awareness of, but without using it as an opportunity to influence others. The thing is, if someone wants to find something online then they will. If you go looking for negativity and tips on hurting yourself then you’ll find them. If you’re looking for support groups and inspiration to recover and ways to get help, then you’ll find an abundance of that too!


Feeling suicidal or struggling with trolling and online bullying? I think that the greatest piece of advice anyone can give you is simply to talk. I’m a firm believer that absolutely any advice where mental health is concerned is harder than it sounds, and I completely understand that talking about how you feel and what you’re thinking can be so much more than challenging. It can seem impossible. It can feel as though there’s so many reasons why you shouldn’t speak out and hardly any to encourage you to get help, but you have to push through those reasons not to talk and put so much more weight into the reasons to speak. Just know that if someone is to judge you or pass stigma on anything you say, that says so much more about them than it does you.