CW: This article discusses topics of mental illness, depression, and suicide.
Mental health is by far, one of the biggest problems that many individuals face and is becoming more widely accepted in society as a real cause for concern. 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem of some kind each year in England and 1 in 6 people report experiencing a common mental health problem (like anxiety and depression) in any given week. Therefore, it is clear this is a topic that affects many and so it is vital that we take it seriously but unfortunately, this is not often the case for several reasons.
The effect of social media
Social media is a topic that I could talk about for hours and how it is the sole reason for this current spike in mental health issues among young people. It is toxic and a false depiction of how people live their lives. It has also altered our brains to make us compare ourselves to everyone around us, focusing on what others have and what we don't, giving us an extremely negative view of how we see the world and also ourselves. We often forget that social media is only a glimpse of someone's life and yet it is what we often base an individual's entire persona on because we can only see what they post, but we don't see the other 23 hours of their day.
In our generation, mental health issues seem extremely common with a 71% increase in mental illness diagnoses in adults aged 18-25 in the last 10 years but just as we thought the stigma of mental health was fading, another type of stigma, which is equally as damaging, has arisen. Social stigma refers to the negative attitudes toward and disapproval of a person or group experiencing mental health illness rooted in the misperception that symptoms of mental illness are based on a person having a weak character. These perceptions can lead to discrimination, avoidance, and rejection of persons experiencing mental illness but what we are seeing now, is instead of mental health issues being seen as shameful, it has now become the complete opposite, whereby it is trendy and cool to have mental health problems due to the fact it is now so common for people to class themselves as someone who suffers from mental health issues.
Social media has seen a wave of attention when it comes to this topic, but in an effort to raise awareness and shine a light on the current situation, social media has almost poisoned the topic of mental health even further. Some posts on social media can illustrate the reality and vulnerability of mental illness and help to reach out to those who struggle but other posts only serve to confuse young people with self-diagnosis and advice from influencers talking about their issues. While it is important for people to share their own experiences, social media has romanticized dangerous topics and popularised disorders like depression, anxiety, and bipolar to the point where it has almost become the norm for people to suffer from mental health issues.
Why this is bad
Due to this trend, when someone does decide to speak up and come forward with issues, chances are, they are taken less seriously because people now people just assume they are hopping on a trend which is just as bad because people invalidate how that person feels by not believing them. In addition to this, where it has become far more common, people just accept it and there is very little empathy for people who say they have mental health problems because it is now so common that it is just something everyone has to put up with, even though it carries a lot of weight. There are many individuals, more commonly men, who are seriously struggling to come to terms with it themselves who suffer in silence, and who are afraid to talk because they know that whatever they say, will fall on deaf ears.
In addition, societal and cultural norms of gender conformity to be 'strong' and 'tough' can put pressure on men making it difficult to admit they are struggling with their mental health and to seek help. This is all due to the emerging idea that having mental health problems makes you edgy and cool and makes it hard to differentiate the ones who genuinely need help and those who just say they have these issues, without realizing the scale or severity of what they're saying. I am not saying that everyone who claims to have mental health issues does, but it is still a very sensitive topic and it can be quite hard to say the right thing to someone who is struggling and so even just listening without judgment can go a long way. Imagine if it was you and you needed someone there, how would you want them to react?