When I look around now, all I see are people with their heads down, necks strained and fingers and thumbs flickering constantly.
There is no doubt that smart phones are just part of life. Most people have one and are dependant on it for interacting with the world, whether that’s paying for their coffee at Starbucks, checking the news on the train to work or sending that hilarious GIF of a sloth to a friend on Twitter for the lulz. As a direct consequence of access to the internet being possible almost anytime, anywhere, social media has exploded into a constant phenomenon that absorbs everyone. The potential for good is endless but as with all things, there is a downside. In particular, I want to talk about how it negatively and positively intertwines with mental health.
First off, it can be a terribly lonely place and only further your paranoia that nobody cares/loves/wants or needs you if people aren’t replying to messages, tweets and comments. You know, and I’ve been guilty of this thought myself, that whoever you’re trying to get in touch with has their phone on them and will have seen/heard the notification or felt the vibration. But I think we forget that people have their own lives and sometimes haven’t got the time to reply or simply forget. It doesn’t mean they don’t care, they’re just living life in the real world and will get back to you when they can.
Social media is also a breeding ground for spiteful, hate filled people who have no life of their own so they spread their vile vitriol without seeing the viscous and wicked impact it has on people. Sufferers of mental health conditions are easy targets because the stigma surrounding MH is still so prevalent. Often I’ll see an Instagram post mocking OCD or someone tweeting that they’re ‘so bipolar’ or ‘so depressed’ or people being victimised for being suicidal or struggling with self-harm. It’s a really scary and dangerous place for people like us and we need to be aware of the pitfalls and learn to use the block/report button more because we don’t need that toxicity in our lives. We have enough to deal with!
However, social media can be a wonderful, supportive and happy place where people who battle with MH can feel comfortable. I know from personal experience that Twitter and the MH community on there have been my saving grace on many occasion, from 2am when I can’t sleep because the thoughts are endless to 2pm when I can’t get out of bed because I don’t think there’s any point. Furthermore, because social media has no borders or timezone restrictions, you can connect with anyone in the world 24/7 so it also acts, for me anyway, as a source of therapy that has been invaluable over the last few years. Many conversations have happened on social media with friends I’ve made online that have saved me and brought me back from the brink when no amount of therapy or pills in the real world were sufficient.
On the subject of making friends online, social media has helped forge friendships that for me are stronger than some relationships I have in real life. It really can promote a sense of belonging and feeling like you’re part of a community and connected to the world.
Lastly, social media can be a gateway to opportunities that you would never have had without it. I’ve been able to share my story on various national and international radio stations and have been part of 2 television documentaries purely because I got involved on social media and put myself out there.
The point I’m trying to make is, for all the drags of social media, it’s predominantly a fabulous, happy and positive place that can be a source of vast enjoyment, support and connectivity. So if you’re worried about reaching out on Twitter or Instagram or whatever other form of SM you use, give it a go! It might be the start of something incredible. Plus, how else will you be able to share that cat dancing GIF you found?! Go on, take the plunge!
About the author of this post: Richard is a passionate advocate for mental health (OCD in particular) and set up a YouTube channel to help educate people about it and inspire them and help them realise there is hope. He loves Jurassic Park, video games and if something could be created from the world of films, he would love to own a lightsaber. He goes by the nickname ‘Biscuit’ because his surname is Taylor and when his name is together, you get Rich T. No further explanation needed.