I would apologise, and say this isn’t my normal piece offering hope and words of advice. But, this piece cannot come with an apology. It needs to be said. People need to listen; to understand. If everyone does not listen, we face a bigger problem than the stigma originally around mental health.
Logging into many websites, and I will once again use Tumblr as an example, following the same key words as you will find this post under will bring up an array of posts. Black and white images, accompanied by subtitles. Hand written statements, talking of low self-esteem. Posts from one person talking about emotional well-being, with thousands of notes attached to it, each person adding their apparent caring.
I will say this, and without holding back. Yes, mental illness and low self-esteem requires the breaking of barriers and stigma. But, today, that message has got lost, and, instead, we are faced with a movement which, for want of a better word, romanticises these conditions. And this, in itself, is dangerous.
I’ve been treated for mental health illnesses since I was about fourteen. I have been on numerous medications, had all types of out-patient treatment, and also in patient care. I have been diagnosed, and treated for, depressions, anxiety, PTSD and a few more besides. I was lucky. I was able to get treatment relatively quickly, initially as a paediatric patient on the NHS, and then privately through insurance. However, I recognise that most young people today are not this fortunate. Many will wait firstly for the primary carer to believe what they are saying, and then for a referral to see a professions which seems to never materialise. This is why online support must be appropriate and responsibility must be taken by those who publish material in the public domain.
Look, lets be honest, there is still a stigma around mental health. Yes, it is slowly disappearing. Those in the public eye are willing to use their past in order to break down the barriers, and get people talking. The build up to this years London marathon saw that, culminating in Prince Harry discussing his history with mental health. Yet, there is still the stigma. When I first started dating my now fiancée, I had to work out when the right time was to open up and tell her. I couldn’t do it too soon for fear of scaring her away. Yet, I couldn’t leave it too long for fear of being accused of letting them in without full awareness. So, in that sense, a stigma still survives.
To put it in a nutshell, people on both sides want to break down these barriers and make talking about mental health as normal as talking about the weather. Unfortunately, when people go onto the internet, they lose the real world safety nets. Namely, professionals, friends and family. Once online, and I now talk from personal experience, shutting off the pain of having a mental illness is easy. When you know you are surrounded by people of a similar mindset, then change is not needed. And, it is in this setting, that ideals are formed, and the condition becomes romanticised through art.
Logging into a platform such as Tumblr, when suffering from a mental illness, seeing a page full of others suffering, is not a help, but a danger. And it is a danger which goes unchallenged. You see, there is a culture which has now grown up causing people to idolise mental illness. It encourages self-harm, self-medication and, at the extreme end, suicide with the belief of immortality as a lost soul. I am not for a minute saying that every person who logs onto sites like this and sees this images will go onto commit suicide, but the risk is there. It can suck people in, to make them believe that being part of this community is far better than going through the pain that is therapy. Somehow, it convinces people that through embracing mental illness, glorifying it as a tragedy, and staying within these isolated communities where people do not encourage you to get the help and live aside from your mental illness, is somehow the answer.
Well, let me tell you, it isn’t. Locking yourself away, inside an online community which feeds on those in need, in the hope that you do not seek help from those who can provide it, is not the answer. I met people on Tumblr which, at the time, I considered friends. When my account became inactive, on the advice of my doctor, I started getting messages asking me to come back, to be part of the group. And this highlighted it to me. They do not want people to get better. They want their isolated pocket, where people feed off each other, to remain.
Sites such as Tumblr have a responsibility. They need to step up, and see what is actually going on within their platforms. Within their online site, a small message pops up asking if people wish to continue to be able to see these images. On their app, there isn’t even this. And this is completely unacceptable. Sites are right now clambering to show that they are willing to do all it takes to prevent certain users from sharing information or images, in order to comply not only with laws, but public image. Now is the time for them to step forward, and truly show their want to protect people and do the right thing.