How Public Should We Be With Mental Health?


I recently had a conversation with an addiction counselor friend of mine. We were discussing some of the current trends in stigma reduction, ways we can work to reduce stigma, and the validity of some these strategies. When the conversation ended, I was left with three main points floating around in my head.

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Influence of Social Media.

Firstly, I feel a need to attend to data illustrating a correlation between increased social media use and mental health. This of course does not suggest that social media directly causes mental health issues. The data does correlate, however, and can help to give us some perspective.

Johns Hopkins reports the odds of adolescents living with a mental illness grew by 37% from 2005 to 2014.

Pew Research reports internet users using social media rose from 7% to 76% between 2005 and 2015.

Does it Reduce Stigma?

Secondly, I want to determine whether or not sharing mental health struggles actually reduces stigma. My friend and I agreed; openly discussing mental health helps reduce stigma. We also agreed, however, that certain venues are better suited for this discussion.

I will do a cost-benefit analysis with almost anything. Therefore, I find myself asking whether or not investment in building a supportive online community outweighs the potential negative.

Does it Romanticize?

So thirdly, I need to address fears that social influence will romanticize mental health issues. Majchrzak, Faraj, Kane, and Asad (2013) note that social media turns knowledge into conversation, for instance. Various social media mechanisms can have positive effects but can also have unintended or unanticipated consequences.

For example, the bandwagon effect drives more people to an event when a sufficient number of people initially attend. So simply put, more retweets and comments means more interactions – positive or negative.

Tread Lightly.

Research indicates risk in voicing mental health issues on social media. A mechanism referred to as metavoicing illustrates that once a comment or reply is added to a post, it becomes part of a much larger narrative.

Therefore, the sharing of personal mental health struggles should be handled with caution, because they are not necessarily something to which metaknowledge should be added.

Don’t be a Martyr.

Lastly, it should be noted that dopaminergic effects certainly exist with social media, and may be amplified in those living with mental health issues. Therefore, it again should be used with caution. Likes, retweets, up-votes, down-votes, and comments can cause spikes and crashes in an already cognitively stretched brain.

Martyrdom almost always destroys the living, so we should tread lightly. Making a hero of yourself on social media can also lead to making a martyr of yourself on social media.

Majchrzak, A., Faraj, S., Kane, G., Azad, B. The Contradictory Influence of Social Media Affordances on Online Communal Knowledge Sharing, Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, Volume 19, Issue 1, 1 October 2013, Pages 38–55, https://doi.org/10.1111/jcc4.12030