Romanticising Mental Illness must end today

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.

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Yes, I have a illness. No, I am not weak

There is nothing more infuriating than someone treating you as weak. When you tell them you are suffering from a mental health illness, the attitude is very much you are fragile, weak, child like. People being to walk around you on egg shells, not sure what they can and cannot say.

Well, let me say this, for everyone out there that has ever been diagnosed with a mental health illness. Yes, it is a part of me. Yes, I will have days where I want nothing more than to curl up with a tub of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream watching TV. Yes, I will talk about it. But, do not treat me with kid gloves, for I am not a child. Do not talked to me in hushed voices, for I am not on deaths door. Do not consider me weak, for I have a strength inside me you know not.

Fighting a mental illness is not the same as fighting a cold, or mending a broken leg. It involves a lot of work, every single day. You learn skills in order to keep your mind healthy and functioning. It is hard work sometimes, yes. But, that doesn’t mean I am any different to you or others you know.

The next time someone opens up to you, do not look at them as though they should be locked away. Do not tell them to not talk, for talking often helps as part of their coping strategy. Do not treat them any differently. If they opened to you, its because they trusted you. So respect that, and be grateful. Opening up is never easy, so consider yourself privileged that the person can confide in you.

And, to those of you suffering, do not suffer in silence. Do not let those who treat you differently put you off speaking up and speaking out. For every person who does that, I promise you, there are 10 times as many who will treat you exactly the same way as before you spoke to them. And they will do so for one very simple reason. They are your friends and your family. They are the people who will love you no matter what you tell them. They will be there in your darkest moment, and there to celebrate your best.

No matter what, do not let the small minority force you into hiding. Shout from the roof tops. I have a mental illness. But it does not define me!

Stay Strong. Stay You

Tumblr, the damage, and my campaign

Just over a month ago, I wrote a piece on internet safety. In particular, I highlighted the social media platform Tumblr, owned by Yahoo! and, currently, seeing 555 monthly visitors. It is easy to access, with blogs simple to set up, which can then be managed either any computer, or through mobile phones and a downloadable app.

For most people, Tumblr is simply a way to share and discuss interests and hobbies. It enables people to search for key words and see all similar posts and blogs. For most, it is completely innocent and harmless.

Unfortunately, as with any multimedia platform, there is a darker side. For their part, Tumblr have put in place measures to prevent people coming across NSFW content, such as adult blogs. However, this relies on people marking their blogs as such, and people searching to have their Safe Mode turned on. Having a cursory look, there is no age verification performed when selecting to turn the Safe Mode off, meaning anyone, regardless of age, can access this.

However, campaigns regarding access to adult material are well established. The media have taken to this as expected – it is a subject people recognise as having a negative impact on lives, particularly those who are young, and, therefore, no one questions these campaigns.

Unfortunately, there is also a darker side to Tumblr – one that does not require a Safe Mode to be deactivated in order to access it. There is an epidemic happening on Tumblr, and one they do not seem to wish to acknowledge.

I am, of course, referring to the sharing of images and text. Whilst many will argue that they are sharing posts in solidarity to show support, to people in need, they can actually be seen to create a warped, almost romanticised narrative, leading not to help, but instead to further self harm and, potentially, suicide.

In 2012, British teenager Tallulah Wilson committed suicide, after posting self-harm images to Tumblr. It was also reported than she was sent an image of a noose with the message “here is your new necklace, try it on.” The UK Government called on Tumblr to remove toxic content. Tumblr responded advising that they wanted to protect freedom of expression, but users could report blogs that promoted self harm.

In America, the Washington Post reported a number of cases where teenagers uploaded their suicide letter to Tumblr, before committing the act. Leelah Alcorn, 17. Zander Mahaffey, 15. Damien Strum, 13, attempted this, but his letter was found and family were alerted before he could go through with his plans.

Unfortunately, the letters that were posted were then shared multiple times. On all these occasions, people were not saying they supported suicide, but were trying to show solidarity with those in need.

And there, unfortunately, lies the problem. The way these images are being shared, the way letters are being shared, all have the impact of showing self harm and suicide in a positive light. Tumblr, in wanting to protect free speech, is actually allowing this to go ahead.

I understand the want for people to talk, and feel part of a community. I understand the need to feel as though you are not alone, and that other people understand. I get why teenagers go to these platforms. They can remain anonymous, yet talk about their feelings. Unfortunately, by being anonymous, so are the people they talk to. At best, it means there are teenagers going without help who need it. At worst, it means they are talking to people who do not have their best interests at heart, and are looking at prey on their vulnerability.

Tumblr reported that they would introduce a page which, when searching specific key words, would direct people to resources to get help. Unfortunately, this no longer seems to work. Even when it did, there was still the option allowing people to proceed to the content.

I get the need to protect freedom of speech and expression. But with that comes responsibility. If people were promoting defamatory material, it wouldn’t be allowed. The platform has even shut down those looking to promote material from ISIS and associated groups. In fact, the only thing it doesn’t seem to want to do, is put measures in place to protect the vulnerable.

Right now, mental health has become the ‘elephant in the room’ again. No one seems to want to talk about it. Media have become focused on the dangers of internet predators. Celebrities, once openly talking about mental health, are now focussing their energy on Donald Trump and Brexit. Mental health is, once again, being pushed into a corner, with no one wanting to do anything.

Given you are here, reading this blog, I can hope that you are not that person. I can hope that you want to be someone who wants to make a difference. To be someone who will stand up and speak out for those who need help.

Please, if you do just one thing today to help those who are being affected by the images they see on Tumblr, please sign my petition. This will be delivered to both elected officials and Tumblr in order to put pressure on them to take real action, and not just words. Once you have signed it, please share it. Show you want to help. The more this is shared, the more people will sit up and listen and do their bit.

 http://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/stop-tumblr-damaging-our-youth

Thank you for taking your time to read this. Only together will we be able to take the necessary steps to get people talking about Mental Health, and put measures in place to protect and support those in need.

 

Stay strong. Stay you.