Motley Staff Writer Jessica O’ Brien explores the portrayal of mental illness on the internet and why it’s good to remember what our screens fail to show.
This piece contains candid discussions of mental illness, reader discretion is advised.
Published as part of Issue #3 in November 2021
If you’ve been on Tiktok, you may have noticed the surge in videos relating to mental health, and particularly those with mental illnesses. At first, I enjoyed this content as it seemed to be destigmatising mental illness. On a lighter note, it was genuinely nice to see other people who thought like I did. We could even laugh as a collective, at some of the similar bizarre scenarios we had ended up in. But there came a point where a line was crossed and the overload of content became too much. For example, there was a time when my For You Page was overflowing with videos of people in psychiatric wards, a place I had considered private and safe, a place of recovery. Suddenly, there was an overwhelming flood of content where seemingly well meaning adults were posting ‘put a finger down challenges’ suggesting you too suffered with an undiagnosed disorder.
As someone who has suffered from anxiety and depression from a young age, I understand the adrenaline rush that comes with releasing whatever you are feeling online. However, in reality, it can be very triggering for others, you don’t get a solution from it and you are not reaching out to anyone to speak with, you are merely releasing your pain into the empty vacuum that is Twitter. I am not writing this to preach, as I have done these very same things. I just wish I could provide a preface to the mental illness content every person will undoubtedly come across, that something will always be left unsaid.
Spreading awareness about mental illness is beneficial, I will not argue against that. However, I find it to be incredibly disheartening when people only speak of awareness, and not action. The TikToks we see fail to mention how devastating living with a mental illness actually is. I understand that humour sometimes helps, that relatability can be incredibly helpful, it has been to me. But the reality is that although we spread awareness and we press ‘like’ when someone shares a candid video of them crying online, the majority of people would not respond well when faced with the same situation in real life. And it is not their fault, it is the lack of education on how to help someone who suffers from a mental illness.
Of course, every person who suffers from a mental illness will find certain things comforting and some will not. During panic attacks, people are at their most vulnerable. They may prefer to be brought somewhere private, or if they are unable to move, for there to be no crowding. Ask the person if they would prefer silence, or for you to speak with them. A good tip to keep in mind is that anxiety, for the most part, is irrational, and a bit of a liar. In moments of panic, I personally lose all logic, and what I find helpful is to list things that are worrying me. If you counter the anxious thoughts gently, with logic, the anxiety loses places it can latch onto. Sufferers of mental illness all have their own personal way of coping and don’t necessarily expect others to understand or alleviate it for them. However, while perhaps clichéd or obvious, the best thing you can do for someone who is struggling is to listen. If you feel you are in the right headspace to listen, of course.
Though finding people you relate to and realising you are not alone in the world is brilliant, professional help is really something you should seek in real life, from a reputable source.
Lastly, it’s always good to remember that mental illnesses do not define your character. They don’t make you weaker, or less deserving. They just make you experience the world a little differently, and perhaps respond to it differently, but there is no wrong way to perceive the world. You are just as needed, loved, and cherished as someone without a mental illness. I promise everyone would rather you reached out to them than realise you had suffered in silence. While turning to the internet for reassurance or assistance may be cathartic to a point, we must remember that mental illnesses do not just last the length of a TikTok. They are not trends, and while some can swipe past them, some live with them every day.