I made the bold move to come off my anxiety medication, here’s exactly what happened…
Earlier this year, a member of Gemma’s (name changed for anonymity) family tried to commit suicide. “About that time, people were posting that generic message ‘My door is always open’,” she says. “When a vulnerable person suffers a serious mental health issue, the last thing you need are generic re-posts about having a nice cup of tea.”
Last month, over half a million people posted in support of World Mental Health Day, suggesting Instagram has become a community of support to many – a safe place to talk about mental health struggles where authenticity has replaced the highlight reel.
This may be a welcome change since last year’s study by the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH), ranking Instagram the worst social media platform for young people’s mental wellbeing. But for some suffering mental health struggles, awareness campaigns and Instagrammer’s “itsoknottobeok” captions are anything but helpful, no matter how genuinely intended.
“It’s quite disheartening, when you’re in the thick of it all, to see mental health success stories from… influencers,” says Gemma. “For the vast majority of people suffering serious problems… those stories are meaningless to them.”
Kate Siobhan, 31, a journalist who has battled OCD, is quick to agree. “#MentalHealthDay is a complete distraction from what needs to happen, which is that services must be provided. Listening to ‘grammers talk about depression and anxiety or hashtagging is not going to solve that problem. [And] when the response to a ‘mental health’ share on social media is positive, people then rely on it as if it is a form of therapy – which it isn’t.”
Of course, reading about other people’s challenges can also help those suffering feel less alone. Instagram recognises this through campaigns such as #HereForYou to celebrate support networks that exist on the platform. But anyone with anxiety or depression knows it’s much easier to ‘like’ a poignant meme conveying a relatable mental health issue than to talk to a professional. And according to Dr Neo, that’s the real danger of consuming mental health content on the ‘gram: inaction.
“It creates a very real problem if it becomes a crutch. For example, [liking and sharing] to get attention. When a personality trait becomes enmeshed in our identity, it becomes quite scary to seek help because there’s this question of ‘who am I’ without this condition,” says Dr Neo.