Recent years have seen a steady rise in mental health issues, many of which have been directly linked to our fast-paced, visual, modern tendencies. According to a recent article published by Anxiety Center, social media pressure and reduced face-to-face interactions are key factors that contribute to feelings of inadequacy, depression and sadness. As we scroll through various timelines and newsfeeds, we find ourselves comparing our lives, riches and happiness with those of our peers and, even though we are aware of the staged nature of the images on Facebook and Instagram, we can’t help but feel a tinge of worthlessness, depression and/or sadness wash over us when our own lives don’t seem to match the experiences of others.
The internet is a dangerous world for those prone to mental health issues and yet, at the same time, it has established itself as a popular platform for support and education. There are several websites, YouTube channels and forums dedicated to the subject of depression, anxiety, OCD, etc., offering helpful articles and a supportive community during times of crisis.
In a society that links mental health issues to weakness and shame, these platforms have become a vital source for people who don’t have anyone to turn to in their off-screen lives. On these platforms they find an understanding they often can’t find elsewhere, and this sense of community is of the utmost importance for those who already feel isolated from their peers.
Writer and mental health advocate, Sammy Nickalls, coined the hashtag #talkingaboutit as a means of illustrating that the first step towards getting help is to, indeed, talk about it — and there should be no shame in that. The hashtag has created a safe space for people to share their struggles and, in doing so openly, they are encouraging others to join in the conversation. Sometimes, simply knowing that others are facing the same issues can be healing given that we are part of a society that is quick to silence those who suffer from ailments that aren’t immediately visible to the naked eye. This silence contributes to feelings of being misunderstood and weak, which in turn stops people from seeking help in the first place.
On top of that, serious disorders such as PTSD, GAD and OCD are often downplayed as by-products of everyday stress when, in reality, they are far more deep-rooted than your average burn-out. Medical insurance only covers a measly amount of therapy sessions and with each hour costing as much as your weekly groceries, many people affected by mental health issues are simply not in the financial position to get the help they desperately need.
While online mental health platforms are no substitute for professional help, they provide those affected with the type of kinship needed to overcome the fear of sharing their experiences. The Panic Disorder (PD) group on Facebook is currently made up of 15, 009 members from all over the world and has established itself as a safe, supportive haven for those looking to get advice, frantically type out their symptoms during moments of panic, or simply as a source of motivation for others to accept where they are today and celebrate all the small victories.
Although these types of exchanges won’t necessarily offer the tools needed to overcome certain issues entirely, platforms as such can combat the loneliness and isolation people often feel when they are in the throes of a deep depression or anxious episode through kindness, understanding and, above all, a whole lot of love. These people may have never met one another in real life, but through their shared trials and tribulations they have formed a connection they are unlikely to find with those unfamiliar with — or ignorant of — the challenges of mental health problems.
The narrative surrounding mental health is slowly changing and the internet has acted as a major catalyst in breaking the stigma around the topic. However, government and medical institutions have been slow to implement the changes necessary to provide professional help. Therapy sessions remain a luxury and are thus only accessible to the privileged; whereas applying for help through the NHS could leave you waiting for up to six months, if not longer. According to a recent article published by the Independent, the British Medical Association (BMA) found that, out of 183 Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) nine out of ten did not record waiting times for talking therapies for severe mental illnesses, leaving 3,700 patients waiting for more than six months, and a staggering 1,500 patients waiting for more than a year. For someone undergoing a psychotic or suicidal episode, these waiting times could prove fatal and, while online mental health platforms may offer kindness and guidance during these periods, they cannot provide the acute medical help needed in times of crisis.
Online mental health platforms have facilitated the opportunity for conversations and support in a social climate that is prone to shaming those struggling with psychological problems. Instead of hindering the affected from seeking out professional help for fear of not being taken seriously, these platforms welcome an ongoing narrative that is slowly breaking the stigma and encourages members to fight for their right to medical care.