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.

 

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A pjs day is not a negative, so don’t judge me for it

For many people, a day of sitting at home, in your pjs, with a blanket and some films sounds like a luxury; a great way to take time out from a hectic schedule, and to recharge those batteries. Yet, for those who are recovering from a mental health condition, a day spent being curled up is often seen as a failure.

It sounds silly. If you feel an old ankle injury flaring up, you will rest it. If you have a heavy cold, you will spend the day resting to let your body fight it. Yet, if you are recovering, or have recovered from, a mental health condition, then having a duvet day when you feel in need of some time to yourself, can be frowned upon by not only yourself, but others.

The problem comes from poor internet websites. There are often too many people out there who think they can say that people are being lazy rather than depressed, for example. One of my all-time favourite was an individual trying to explain the difference between being lazy and depressed stated that lazy people choose not to do things they don’t want to do, but are happy doing what they do want. The example they gave was in not going to work, but happy to go out for a walk.

This one example, easy to find replicated, is also one of the biggest reasons people with depression hide away.

When I was at one of my lowest points, I was signed off work. I’d already been calling in sick, and knew I needed the GP to support me. Part of the advice, however, from the GP, was to still ensure I get out the house.

Now, that was fine, the advice made sense. I’d heard the endorphin release from exercise could help raise my mood. The only problem was, I lived in the same town I worked. I did as the GP said, and saw people I worked with, giving me judgemental stares. It would even be mentioned by my manager that I had been spotted in town that day.

So, instead of taking my GP’s advice, I stayed at home after that, not wanting to be subject to their judgement. This led to an even further spiral into depression, and the things that followed.

Now, I would like to say that I am in no way blaming these individuals for the worsening of my condition. I have no proof that if I had kept on going out, that I still wouldn’t have fallen further. However, what I am saying is the judgement passed by these individuals did not help.

It also means that I often beat myself up mentally for wanting a day of just watching films, eating rubbish food and generally not doing anything. Others may call them fat days, or say they are days where calories don’t count. Duvet days give the impression of a nice relaxed time. Yet, when someone suffers depression, or has suffered from, they know people will be quick to label them as lazy. Even more so, they will label their selves as lazy first.

So please, if you know someone suffering from depression, do not label them as lazy because they avoid situations which make them feel worse. Do not judge them for needing to take time to recharge and look after their selves. Instead, tell them to take the time, in the way you would someone who has a sprain or fracture. Ask them if they want company, but don’t be offended if they say no.

And, most of all, whether you have suffered from a mental health condition or not, whether you are currently suffering or not, do not ever worry about taking a pj day. Enjoy them. Relax. Unwind. Take time to look after number 1.

Stay strong. Stay you.

Can’t you just try being happy?

How many times have you heard someone in a wheel chair to just walk it off? Or perhaps a stabbing victim to just stop bleeding? Probably as many times as you have heard a cancer sufferer being told to just get better.

Yet, how many times have you heard someone suffering from depression being asked whether they have tried being happy? Or the ever present ‘it’s all in your mind’. Or, my personal favourite, “a person of your age shouldn’t have things to be depressed about”.

So many times, these statements, and many others besides, have been said in good faith and not in a way to cause hurt, but still have caused hurt where I have been angry towards myself for feeling the way I do.

The simple thing is, your friends and family want to be there for you. They aren’t trying to upset you, nor fill you with a sense of failing. Often, in fact almost always, it is simply that they do not understand what you are going through, or how you are feeling.

Recovery is a two way street. From the part of the support network, they will need to learn the signs of a bad day, of a good day, of times to be left alone, and of times to get you a drink.

From the side of the person recovering, you need to tell people when they say things that aren’t constructive. Let them know that rather than telling you to be happy, they can suggest watching a film together. Or going for a coffee. Or a walk. Tell people when you need them there. But, also, know you can ask for time to relax on your own. This is all part of mindfulness (to be visited in a later piece), and is perfectly okay to do.

Talking is key. Only by talking can people better understand you and what you need. What is right for you may not be right for another. So help them to learn. And, once they have started to learn, they will then be able to help you.

Treat it as a broken leg. You need time to recover. You will need time to do exercises with support. Other times, you will just want to rest. Whatever you do, do what is right for you in that moment.

Stay strong. Stay you.

The ‘S’ word

I am a survivor. Not of cancer, nor of an injury. But of mental health. More specifically, I am a survivor of an attempted suicide. Today, I have a beautiful family, and am planning my wedding. Yet, a few years ago, I couldn’t plan what I was doing at the end of the week. For me, I had no want to get to the end of the week. Sometimes, I just didn’t want to get to the morning. But things changed, and changed for the better.

If you are sitting watching television tonight, I can be certain of one thing. You will see an advert telling you how many people are diagnosed with, or survive, cancer. You may even see adverts regarding heart conditions.

What you will not see, however, are the facts around suicide, or, the S word.

I call it the S word for a simple reason. No one talks about it. Like cancer for a long time, it is to be kept behind closed doors. One of those things people know is there, but don’t want to acknowledge due to the pain.

Yet, by not talking about it, we are doing a massive injustice to those out there who are fighting an illness just as hard. Those who are on the long journey to recovery, worrying about potential relapse. It isn’t an easy journey. But, by not talking about it, we aren’t showing our friends, our family, our loved ones, that they can turn to us when they want to open up.

In 2014, there were 6122 suicides in the UK. To compare, there were 11,433 deaths to breast cancer. In the bigger picture, this is not a huge difference (only 8 more deaths per 100,000). Alternatively, it equates to one death by suicide every two hours. Yet, the other unpublicised fact is this – every 12 minutes, someone in the UK attempted to commit suicide. Just let that sink in for a moment.

So, given this, why do we not talk about suicide, and in turn mental health, anywhere near as much as we do cancer? Why do we only have one day a year where the media, celebs and other individuals decide that the focus should be on mental health, when there is constant awareness, talking and fundraising for cancer services and investigations.

I want to make it clear, I am in no way saying we should be taking away from cancer suffers or research initiatives. Instead, I am saying we should utilise the same techniques that organisations and charities have used to raise awareness, and funds, and even workplace and school conversations.

Cake sales, charity sport days, sponsored challenges. All of these are utilised by campaigns for other medical conditions. Yet, some how, mental health doesn’t get the same push.

So, I call to you all. Are you planning on doing a sponsored walk? Maybe even a silence? Or, as in many offices, a cake sale? Has the charity already been set? Are you in discussion with your team about who the next charity should be that you fund raise for? If so, look online to find your local mental health charity. Perhaps there is a local centre that opens its doors for people to attend and talk. Or even just be in a reflective atmosphere. Perhaps a friend or relative has told you they have sought the help of a organisation and used their services? Maybe you yourself have found yourself browsing a charity webpage just to look at some information.

If so, then use this as a chance to talk about mental health. Use this as a way to shout out. Tell people everywhere that you are wanting to help those whose illness cannot be seen. Let those who are suffering know you are there for them, and will support them through their recovery. Even if some do not feel able to approach you, just knowing you are there and willing, can be the crutch they need.

Champion the change where you are. If you are in a school, college or university, petition those who are there for your welfare. Ask them to push mental health awareness, whether it be in conversation in form groups, or a campaign by your student union. They are there to represent you, so get them doing what you want them to do. If you are at work, speak to whoever organises your charity of the year. Speak to your floor manager to see how you can organise something. No matter how small, it is all going to help.

But, most of all, take time for yourself. Take the time to ask yourself how you are. If you need someone to talk to, then ask your friend for a coffee. Maybe go for lunch with a family member. Just remember, as much as you want to be there for others, so will they want to be there for you.

You can help others, and will. It doesn’t take anything big. The way to look at it is this. A building, when trying to break it down, looks impossible. But, if you take just a few bricks away from one of the corners, the whole thing eventually tumbles. Together, we can do this regarding the stigma of mental health.

Stay strong. Stay you.

Internet safety – the unspoken truth

This week, we saw the Safer Internet day. Whilst the organisation behind it appeared to have good intentions, with fact sheets for specific age groups on being safe online, considering impact on others etc, along with for parents to understand the technological capabilities, it unfortunately fell short.

The main side put across by the media was, as you would expect, stranger danger. It focused stories on individuals who had met people from chat rooms, and the impact it had had. It looked at the risks children faced posting images and videos online. It looked into the dangers of certain popular apps where age ID verficiation is impossible.

However, what it didn’t do, what it should have done, is taken this opportunity to reach out to the children who are trapped in their online communities. Not through fear of being blackmailed, or embarrassment of what they have done, but out of the perceived safety net certain communities provide.

There are many online sections for teenagers seeking help with mental health issues. Many, run by charities, provide fantastic help and advice, and should be praised more than they are. Unfortunately, there are other peer to peer network groups out there, which present huge amounts of dangers to children.

One such site is Tumblr. In 2012, Tumblr announced they would look to ban blogs which promoted or advocates suicide, self-harm and eating disorders. Whilst this is true, many users have simply found easy ways to get around this. By changing their profile heading to say they do not support or promote, they are able to carry on posting images and texts which can have a major influence on not only young individuals, but anyone who is looking for help.

Being bombarded with images of ways to self-harm, text from others saying they are lonely and trapped, can, and does, only add to the feeling of being trapped in the cycle. Very few blogs are on Tumblr which show people how they have been able to go through treatment and are now living happy everyday lives.

There are many media reports out there of individuals having committed suicide having been on these sites, talking and sharing not only their health concerns, but those of others. Added to that the number of images to reinforce the negative thoughts and feelings, and it becomes clear, very quickly, that sites like this can have a massive detrimental effect on the health of vulnerable individuals.

Tumblr, as I said above, did try to put measures in place to prevent this from occurring. However, what has to be recognised is that teenagers are resourceful. As soon as one avenue is shut, another opens.

Parents, as well, are fighting a losing battle. They are told how to talk with their children and discuss their online presence, but children will hide what they don’t want to be known. Even looking through your child’s media device doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll find anything. Accounts can be hidden. You can have multiple accounts per device. There are even basic instructions online on how to hide apps you don’t want found. However, the most simple way is simply to delete the app as soon as you are finished with it for the day, and reinstall it. In this day of fast internet, it only takes a few seconds.

So, I say this to parents. When you are talking about internet safety, do not solely focus on the unknown individuals you are interacting with. Children these days receive ample warnings on social networking sites, through schools, and again family members. Instead, focus on the content they are looking at. Do not assume that, if they aren’t accessing adult websites, they are safe. Take the time to properly understand. Take time to notice the signs that your child isn’t just going through the Kevin and Perry stage. Take time to talk about their mental wellbeing in the same way you would their physical health.

Children, teens, young adults, I talk directly to you now. I know the pull towards these sites. I understand the want to feel that you are not alone, and that there are others feeling how you feel. I understand it feels like a safe location to talk to others, and air your concerns. But know that this can cause you to feel worse as well. Know that seeing the hurt of others can hurt you to. Put down your phone, or tablet, or whatever else you are using. Instead, talk. Whatever you would say online, tell a friend. Or a parent. Or grandparent. Or anyone you feel comfortable talking to. Let them know how you are. It’s okay to say you need to talk. It’s okay to not feel strong. It’s okay to talk about mental health.

But, most of all, it’s okay to say ‘I need help’. By saying that, it does help you feel more relaxed. It also means that those who care about you know. They won’t wrap you in cotton wool. But they will listen to you when you need to talk. They will want to go with you when you feel ready to speak to a GP, or school counsellor. They will want you to know that they still want to go bowling at the weekend, and still want to talk about last nights TV. That won’t change. What will change is having someone to hug you in person, rather than through your device.

Stay strong. Stay you.

#ItsOkayToTalk

Very recently, I sat down to write a new piece for you all. I was writing on the dangers of the internet, and how vulnerable people can be exploited. I’d spent nights researching it, seeing things I never want any vulnerable person to see or read, and wondered whether the internet was a curse on society.

Yet, I have decided not to post this (yet). You see, I was on twitter recently, scrolling through messages, when I came across the hashtag ItsOkayToTalk.

It seemed to be popular, and, scrolling through, seemed to get a lot of men talking – something that I haven’t seen in a long time.

Looking further into the campaign, I was shocked, but heartened, to see that something so effective had come from something so painful.

Following the suicide of his brother-in-law, Luke Ambler set up a safe space for men in crisis to talk, called “Andys Man Club”. This provides men the opportunity to talk to others in need, and also getting support from those who have worked through from rock bottom to become supporters.

The campaign has become a huge success, drawing support from all sectors of society, including comedians and sportsmen.

And this campaign, along with the many others out there such as #endstigma, have made me see that, despite all the dangers that the internet holds, it is a place for hope and support, with people out there genuinely wanting to help people at their lowest time.

Although I was only suffering badly a few years ago, there wasn’t as much support online as there is now. Yes, there were the big charities, which remain and do a brilliant job, but there wasn’t the smaller, local campaigns that there are now.

And it is these campaigns which will make the difference. Knowing there are people in your local area who are willing to talk and listen can mean the difference between hiding away, or knowing that you have a lot of support around you.

As the hashtag states, it is okay to talk. People are becoming less judgmental and are more willing to listen and help. It is becoming normal for men to open up and ask for help. The stigma is going slowly.

If you need help, speak up. People will want to help you.
Stay Strong. Stay You

Celebrate those little goals

You’re having a bad day. Sat at home, on the sofa, you are struggling to find motivation. At the office, in front of your computer, just looking, not doing anything.

It can feel horrible. Particularly if you have recently been doing so well. You sit there, wondering why you are slipping back. Wondering whether things will ever get better. Wondering why you are trying.

Well, let’s turn things upside down for a moment. You have got out of bed. Congratulations. It would be so easy to just lay in bed all day and not do anything. You have got dressed. Fantastic. That shows that you are prepared to do stuff as the day goes on. If you are at work, amazing. You have left the house, done the journey, and put yourself in a place to be busy.

They may seem small things to most people, but, having suffered from depression, I know the effort this can take.

So don’t look upon it as a small thing. Don’t think it insignificant. Because, believe me, it is a major achievement. Be proud of yourself in anything you do.

Eating – fantastic. We know we lose appetite when hungry.

Going for a walk – brilliant. You have been able to get out the house and get some fresh air.

Reading a book – amazing. We all lose interest in things we once enjoyed so this is great.

Playing a game – great. It takes a lot of concentration and shows you can focus on something.

Do not ever beat yourself up for not being able to be as up and about as much as you want to, or for feeling frustrated, or for just wanting a day to curl up and hide away. We all have these days, we all struggle with the feelings of failure and worry. But, it doesn’t mean this.

What I do, and what I would love to hear you try one day, is to look at where I have come from. Look at the point where you were at your lowest, and now look at where you are today. You have come so far, and done so well. These minor set backs are just that. Minor. It’s like falling down a snake on the board game. No matter which one you slide down, you will never end up back at square one. Much that same way as you can never get to square 100 with one roll of the dice.

So, keep congratulating yourself on the small achievements. Keep looking at how far you have come. Imagine each small achievement as a snowflake. One day, those snowflakes will build up and become solid and strong.

And, just remember this. No matter how bad things may seem, no matter how dark everything seems, remember this. Although I have never met you, I believe in you and know you have the strength to get through this.

 

Stay strong. Stay you