Is There a Stigma Against Open Discussions about Mental Illness Online?
While more people are becoming sympathetic toward those who struggle with mental illness, there is still push back against “over-sharing” about personal experiences online.
Attitude Toward the Mentally Ill
About 1 in 5 U.S. adults experience mental illness a year; and with rising healthcare costs, fewer of those people can seek treatment. So when professional treatment becomes unavailable, these people (especially young people) turn to online forums to find help.
Yet misplaced feelings of shame may silence some. Others who want to share their experiences with mental illness and find healing in sharing are being stigmatized. It doesn’t help that standard attitudes toward the mentally ill (both online and off) generally fall into these categories:
- “You need to get over it” – Like mental illness is a cold being complained about, many people consider mental illness just an excuse sufferers are using to get sympathy. There is little to no sympathy expressed by these people and generally become irritated or angry with those who are dealing with mental illness.
- “Have you tried being happy?” – Those with this attitude have at least some sympathy for those with mental illnesses, but run out of patience quickly if the person doesn’t “perk up” soon. Yet, more teens and millennials suffer from depression than any other age group.
- “You’re just looking for attention” – Possibly one of the most offensive, these people do not care about those struggling with mental illness. They also tend to invalidate the idea that mental illness is a real problem.
With only 57% of adults believing they are caring and sympathetic towards those who struggle with mental illness, that leaves 43% who are not. Add to this fact that people are less likely to take someone seriously in an online setting since there it is hard to verify the truth, and you have a recipe for disaster.
The Struggling Younger Generation
As millennials and teens turn more to social media and other online sources for validation and connectivity, they will find new forms of healing through these online interactions.
Celebrities like Demi Lovato have endorsed this behavior, such as with her “Be Vocal: Speak Up For Mental Health” campaign. Yet it has lead to a new conundrum…
There is a misconceived attitude that those who share their stories about mental health issues are just trying to be trendy.
There is also a massive amount of risk for online interactions (trolling, bullying) with damaging effects. This consideration silences some who would like to share their stories and may delay their healing.
What Can Be Done
Helping those who are struggling with mental illness to reach out can be incredibly hard, and if online avenues become closed to them, it will become even harder. However, there are things we can do to help make people feel safe and able to share their experiences.
- Reach out – As opposed to supporting someone in person, it actually doesn’t take much for you to reach out to someone online who took the time to share their personal struggle with mental illness. A quick comment thanking them for sharing their story can count for a lot.
- Resist doubt – It may be hard to resist questioning someone on their experiences or asking why they didn’t do something different. But that’s not what the sharing is about; even if it doesn’t make sense to you, it doesn’t have to.
- Stay positive – When it comes to online commenting, it is best to listen to Thumper: “If you ain’t got nothin’ nice to say, don’t say nothin’ at all.”
For those who want to share about their struggles with mental health, there are some excellent places where you can share your story.
As we learn to listen to others share what mental illness is really is like, we can keep chipping away at the overall stigma against those who are struggling.
Jacobson, T. (2018). Is There a Stigma Against Open Discussions about Mental Illness Online?. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 8, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/is-there-a-stigma-against-open-discussions-about-mental-illness-online/