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Social Media slack – and why it doesn’t deserve it

It’s #MentalHealthDay2018. How do I know this? It’s trending on Twitter, as is #MentalHealthAwarenessDay, and #WorldMentalHealthDay. Mental health, or rather speaking about the topic, has become more prevalent in recent times – and rightly so. People, companies, brands all seem to be doing (or at least attempting to do) their part to help de-stigmatize the issue, and social media – websites and applications in which users can share content and participate in social networking – has provided yet another platform on which you may join in on the conversation.

Social media allows for the creation and circulation of content. In this case, it’s content around mental health – a topic of discussion formerly shied away from. However, social media has also been vilified for its negative implications on mental health. Whilst it may be true that apps such as Instagram can allow its users to project unrealistic standards and unachievable #goals, which may in turn make others feel depressed, it can also provide a platform for accounts and movements that counter these ideals and supposed societal ‘norms’. It can be used as a tool to challenge ideas and spark debates (sometimes positive, sometimes not). But social media is not the enemy.

Social media is simply the evolution of the internet. It is a communication channel for online communities. Remember AOL? AOL chat? Chat rooms? MSN? Myspace? Or even online forums? These all existed with the intention of bringing people online together. I’m not necessarily saying that’s a good thing, but I’m not saying it’s a bad thing either. Its role in relation to mental health is what I take issue with, as it seems it is only ever portrayed in a negative light. Meanwhile, social media helping with loneliness is rarely reported on.

If it wasn’t for social media, would motivational quotes or memes being circulated on the internet be as popular? I’m not saying they help those struggling with mental health issues, but who am I to say they don’t? As corny as I may find them at times, sometimes a picture of a cute animal with an inspirational message can make me feel better. Even if only for a moment. I see social media as an outlet – in fact I recently considered creating an anonymous Twitter account on which to share my thoughts when I’m having a particularly hard day, I figured it’ll be cheaper than therapy. I see social media as support. I see social media as letting me know I’m not alone.

It’s Mental Health Day 2018. I know this because a hashtag – a type of metadata tag used on social networks allowing users to apply dynamic, user-generated tagging which makes it possible for others to easily find messages with a specific theme or content – made me aware of this information. Perhaps I would have found out from traditional media and offline press and publications, but as a “millennial” who does in fact spend most of my time online (both because it’s my preferred method of communication and because it’s my job), I’m incredibly glad we have online platforms that seek to circulate content around this issue, whilst also connecting people to one another who wish to speak on the topic. We need to speak about mental health. I need to speak about mental health. And if social media allows me to do just that, then I’m all here for it.

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