Is the Mental Health Community really toxic?

My Social Media Experience.

I have always said that for me, social media is a double-edged sword. On the one hand it can be an incredible way for people to connect and seek and receive support, but at the same time social media can be a very unhealthy place for a variety of reasons. I only joined Twitter last year but before that I was devoted to Facebook. On my Facebook it was a mixture of old school friends, former colleagues and ex boyfriends with a handful of my real friends. When I suffered with bouts of depression, I would often update my status and express how I was feeling, but it seemed that when I scrolled through my news-feed that no-one felt the same. I longed to hear someone echo my sentiments, but all I saw was smiles and holidays and all the ‘normal’ people enjoying life. I just didn’t feel part of it, and it was so harmful to my self-esteem.

When I joined Twitter, I decided that I wouldn’t follow any of my Facebook friends, I didn’t want anyone to find me, I wanted to create a space where I could be myself and connect with like-minded people. After years of suppressing my feelings and feeling lost and alone, I had finally found a place where I could express myself. I found people who just like me, openly expressed how they felt about their mental health, I read articles that inspired my own, that inspired me to  be proud my mental illness – something I never imagined in a million years. So, for that reason, I have personally felt more part of it than not, but it hasn’t always been the case and I wanted to understand why others didn’t feel the same.

People don’t feel part of it…

The online mental health community can be an incredibly supportive place and for many it is a lifeline, and the only way that they can express themselves and connect with people. That’s why when I created a poll on whether people felt a part of the mental health community, I was shocked to find that a quarter of people didn’t feel part of it at all. The poll was created on Twitter as I feel that is the most active place for mental health. 737 people responded to the poll, with the following votes:

Do you feel part of the online mental health community?

22% of people answered ‘Absolutely, it’s great’
25% of people answered ‘Not at all’
48% of people answered ‘Sometimes’
And 4% of people answered ‘Other’
I wanted to know why people felt this way and so I spoke to some of the respondents and got their views.

‘Followers’

One of the reasons people didn’t feel part of the community, is that they don’t get followed back by others and I can totally see how that could affect self-esteem. I used to feel the same, but I’ve learnt not to take it to heart. I follow loads of people who don’t follow me back and I do that because their content benefits me and I like what they have to say.

I quickly learnt myself that it’s not personal. As a rule, I tend to follow any mental health related account, but I don’t always follow people back straight away. Sometimes I wait for that engagement to take place before I hit follow, sometimes I miss things, and that’s really frustrating because the last thing I want to do is make others feel unwelcomed.

Yet as much as I want to engage with everyone, my twitter is still my space. I still need to follow the accounts and support networks close to my heart, because Twitter is also my lifeline. I’ll give any one the time of the day, but I might not want my feed full of things that might not benefit me. It doesn’t mean to say the people posting aren’t lovely, but we also have to create own our unique spaces that echo who we are and what we need when we connect online.

I know it can sometimes feel personal if someone doesn’t follow you back, especially if they seem to follow everyone else. For a while it had me questioning, why me? But at the end of the day we’re all human, if you engage with someone online quite frequently but they don’t follow back, maybe ask them why? It could be a simple mistake, or there could be a reason behind it, but I try and focus on the engagement I get from other people these days rather than whether they follow me back or not. Once you start feeling at peace with the whole follower thing, I promise your online experience will become a whole lot better.

‘Clique’

Another reoccurring theme in the responses was that people had their own cliques, or that the community is a ‘cliquey’ place, and I have to admit there have been a few occasions where I’ve felt that too. However, I’ve noticed that when I tend to feel that way, I’m also in a very negative mindset. Now a lot of us suffer with depression, and it’s well known that when were depressed, we deal with negative feelings of self-worth, so it’s no surprise that if we see people connecting and interacting and at the same time, we’re withdrawing, it could be easy to feel like an outsider and is ultimately a recipe for disaster.

Out of the 48% of people that answered sometimes, a lot of these people said that whether or not they felt included online was contributed to their mood. A lot of people like me, reported feeling pushed out when they were feeling really low. Another factor to take into consideration is that negative feelings may trigger others. Sometimes we have the capacity to take on other people’s worries, and some days were just fighting through our own.

It’s also worth noting that some people are just arseholes, and they will be arseholes regardless of how you’re feeling. I didn’t want to invalidate anyone’s feelings, you’ll know at the end of the day if someone is just being mean and if they are, just block them, they aren’t worth it.  

I have started to become mindful of how I interact online and try to engage with people who were taking part in the conversation, and I’m far from perfect but I do try and respond to every meaningful message. I have a lot of heartfelt messages, people opening up and talking about trauma in their lives and they are the ones I don’t want to miss, but at the same time Mental Health Advocates are only human, we may speak up about things but were still recovering ourselves.

What I will say is that naturally people do form groups, there are communities within communities and some groups are organically grown by mutual interests, location, age, and many other factors. I know that I have my go to Twitter people, and it’s not that I value the rest any less, but I do gravitate towards certain people and may on times, show them a little more love – and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. You can have your go to people and still be inclusive of others.

Don’t burn yourself out

Be there for others by all means, but if you don’t look after yourself then you won’t be able to help others. I don’t mean this in the ‘You can’t love others until you love yourself’ context, because you can still help others by being depressed because essentially what you’re doing when you’re showing others your sad is saying, you’re not alone and that helps a lot of people. What I mean is, you need to put yourself first. It is absolutely okay if something triggers your mental health and you want to protect yourself, it’s okay to mute, to block content that is harmful to you and your journey. You have no obligation to be anyone’s counsellor. You have no obligation to respond. You are a mental health advocate, but you are not a superhero and you can’t save everybody.

By all means try if you want to, there is nothing wrong with reaching out and I don’t want this post to discourage that. Just make sure that you’re in the right place to deal with it. I had to take a step back lately, after someone was continually disclosing that they were suicidal, and making me feel guilty if I didn’t respond. I knew this person was going through a hard time, but I wasn’t the person who could help them, mainly because I felt the same though I didn’t say it. For a while, I felt so guilty. I questioned if I could even call myself an ‘advocate’ but what does that really mean? For me, that only means speaking up on behalf of mental illness, that doesn’t equate to personal crisis counsellor. 

My conclusion

An important part of my findings that I haven’t talked about is the issue of inclusion for marginalised groups. The reason for this is because I felt the issues needed to be talked about but I wasn’t the person to do it. I don’t want to sit here and talk for them when there are so many people out with a voice who are willing to do so. Some of these groups were: Men, Veterans, BAME, LGBT, Physically disabled, People with Mental Illnesses that are still taboo such as BPD, Schizophrenia, Parents and carers, prison and ex-offenders, and they are just a few.  On that note if anyone would like to guest post on my blog or if you have a blog post talking about inclusion from your perspective that I can share, please let me know. I know there are many of you, and rather than have excerpts from the findings, I feel the reasons behind why these groups don’t feel socially included deserve a blog post of their own.  

The main thing for me is I didn’t want this to be a negative post or a dig toward the mental health community, because I have so much more to be thankful for from being a part of it. What I’ve understood from speaking to others is that we’re all complex human beings, and yes there may be a small proportion of people who are not inclusive or not very nice or supportive, but then we need to also understand that everyone who is a part of this puzzle, is fighting their own unique battle in their mind. I’ve felt pushed out at times, and I’ve had people tell me I’ve made them feel that way. Now I know I would never intentionally do that, but its happened. People react and respond differently to every single message that’s put out there. Its impossible to cater to everyone, it’s impossible to solve every problem, but as long as we are kind, and as long as we are understanding, we can make sure we create a better space for everyone. The most important thing to remember is balance. Support others, protect yourself, and be kind. I try and be helpful to others, but I am not a beacon hope, or a hero, I’m just a flawed human being trying to connect with other flawed human beings and do something good in the process.  As a whole, the Mental Health Community is a place that connects people, is it perfect? No. But it is a saving grace for many of us, an incredibly powerful platform, and we need to keep it going strong. 

 

 

 

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