What Has Social Media Really Done to Conversation About Mental Health?

Mind It
4 min read

Chances are you check your phone first thing when you wake up and last thing at night, and a zillion times during the day.

Chances are also high that you mindlessly flick through your social media feed – memes that crack you up, celebrities' glossy lifestyle, friends' life updates and if you're a news junkie like me, you'd probably be up-to-date with all "breaking news", too.

It's also a space in which we build relationships, form identities, express ourselves, and learn so much about the world around us.

Social media has moved conversations from the private to the public sphere, and with good reason. Mental health has been thrown into the mix and has become one of the biggest discussions lately.

So, what has social media really done to conversations around mental health? With prejudice still around, how far have we come in destigmatising mental health? Does it yield deeper connections and conversations, or is it just another buzz-worthy topic?


The Good

Social media and mental health - the good.

(Photo: iStock)

For some, social media is much more than likes, follows, and can be a really powerful and groundbreaking space when used correctly.

"It’s been my prime source to learn new stuff which I never knew even existed. I’ve really learnt what mental health is, what are the things to accept. It’s definitely been my main source to grow, understand myself and also to understand the community," Dr Shanthala, says.

For Shreya, who struggles with anxiety and depression, mental health has become less of a taboo topic to discuss online with not just friends, but strangers, too. "I'm glad that there is less shame attached to it. It makes my suffering normal," she says.

Apratim has been one of the lucky ones who has found a community on Instagram. It's not traditional counselling, or group therapy, but a safe space to talk, and to vent.

"It's a space that lets you process emotions. It's also a space that lets you talk about things without any judgment," he says.

"So, social media, if used properly, will let you have those conversations, because access to people right now, specifically during the lockdown and the pandemic is not that easy," Apratim adds.

Dr Ruksheda Syeda, a psychologist, says, "Social media has done more service to mental health than the disservice in terms of spreading awareness."

"It has normalised talking about mental health, there has been an uptick in the awareness about different kinds of mental illnesses. When used by professionals, in the right way, it has really made a lot of difference."

The Bad

Social media and mental health: The bad

(Photo: iStock)

Apoorva thinks social media is like a double-edged sword. There's no doubt that people are getting new insights, and the pandemic has pushed people to think more and reach out for help. But the stigma still exists, and awareness is still less, she says.

"Just looking at the posts haven't helped me much. It doesn’t make a lot of difference because you need to work on yourself. You need active help. Professional help does matter," Apoorva says.

Kartik, who uses uses Twitter, Reddit and Instagram, says a lot of posts trivialise mental health with dark humour.

"I think it's a bad way to get that information on social media, because it's a nuanced and complex topic. And what we have in social media is just small packets of it. It's not very understandable, or not convincing enough for people to look into it seriously," he says.

"Of course wherever there is some kind of development and progress, there's also going to be some kind of exploiters around. Unfortunately, a lot of people and communities dole out advice or quotes, which seem like that mental health, but it's anti mental health,"
Dr Syeda

The Ugly

Toxic positivity is something that is very common and can be damaging to those who are vulnerable, Dr Syeda says.

When every scroll through your feed is met with '#positivevibes, stay strong or everything happens for a reason' posts, you can't forcefully think of rainbows and sunshine when you are neck deep in negative emotions, isn't it?

There's the FOMO, there's doom scrolling, being addicted, and some sprinkling of toxic positivity.

In addition to these, any random post on mental health, could also be detrimental to many.

"If a person is already suffering from something, reading a post on mental health could trigger risk of suicide, or eating disorder, or self harm. All of these triggers are something that we don't even realise," Dr Syeda says.

But overall, Dr Syeda says social media has done more good than harm.

People in general are thinking about mental health differently than they did before, and they’re using social media to reach out for support.

When used intentionally, it can be also serve as a space for groundbreaking conversations.

(If you feel like you need mental health intervention, or you know someone who may need help, please reach out to them with kindness and call these numbers of local emergency services, helplines, and mental health NGOs)

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