How Social Media is Altering the Image of Mental Illness

How Social Media is Altering the Image of Mental Illness

I’ll admit, it’s pretty fascinating that we live in a world where you can connect with people across the world and join virtual communities of people who care about the same things you do.  But that also comes with negative consequences.  On the popular blogging site, Tumblr, there are very few rules as to what goes.  Blogs are focused on everything from food to fashion, art and music, and mental disorders.  While some accounts create a community of support for those suffering from illnesses like depression or self harm- the majority serve as a base full of triggering content.

At the stroke of a keyboard, anyone can search for tags such as “depression”, “self-harm”, and “anorexia”.  Sometimes, a notification pops up- giving the link to crisis hotlines and mental health services- but you can scroll right past that to find images of bloody wrists, black and white photos saying, “Drugs take the pain away” or posts like “reblog if your thighs touch and you hate yourself.”  The ability to “reblog” allows these images to spread faster, to a larger audience that might not be actively looking for them.  And because Tumblr originates as an artistic photo blogging platform- when combining that with mental illness, you get a glamorized view of it.

While society should be striving for more open communication channels on mental illness, it needs to be done carefully.  The surplus of posts that say things like “there’s something very romantic about self destruction” are a step in the wrong direction.  Not only do these posts belittle people who are actually diagnosed with a mental illness, it also creates an alluring, almost sexy image of the victims.

Although Tumblr isn’t the only site that’s guilty of this, it’s a great place for young people to feel understood.  There’s no doubt that growing up is difficult and having access to online communities can help people feel less isolated.  But now having access to such a vast amount of content blurs the lines between sadness and major depressive disorder or silent suffering being seen as beautiful verses destructive.  Having a community to turn to is only helpful as long as those people make you feel better about yourself.  When everyone in the community has the same negative thoughts it only provides stronger reinforcement for the damaging feelings.

While social media sites have provided many advantages, including the communication of mental health ideas, it has also undermined the development of a lot of these efforts.  It is important for the growth of positive and supportive mental health resources because mental suffering has never been and never will be glamorous.

Audrey Sloma

As a psychology and sociology major, a big focus of my studies has been on mental wellbeing. However, I found that outside of the major, mental health tends to be a forgotten and suppressed topic. Through The Humanology Project, my hope is to help make the topic of mental health as open as the subject of physical health. Growing up, I watched a close relative struggle with addiction, which put a big strain on my family, and along with it, a sense of shame. Watching the stigma of mental illness continue through high school and into college with students struggling from conditions like depression has made me passionate about working with mental health. I tend to be happiest while listening to music, being active outdoors, and playing with my golden retriever puppy.

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