The Internet and Combatting Mental Health Stigma
With so much of the mental health conversation taking place online, I can’t help but wonder if the Internet is helpful or harmful to combatting mental health stigma. Or maybe it's somewhere in between, both, or none of the above. Let’s take a closer look.
How the Internet Helps to Combat Mental Health Stigma
The Internet is where I found my voice when it comes to my mental health struggles. Putting my words out into the void, as it were, has helped alleviate some of the weight on my mind over the years and connect with others who can relate to my struggles.
While in the offline world, I felt isolated, alone, and freakish; posting online showed me that I wasn’t any of those things, nor should I feel ashamed for my experiences. Whereas I once felt no one could understand my experiences with depression, anxiety, and excoriation (skin-picking) disorder, taking this step showed me differently. It’s helped to reduce stigma.
The Internet provides a space to chip away at mental health stigma. It’s no longer just people within the mental health space or advocates being open about their struggles; it’s a wide range of people from all walks of life. Seeing people open up and feel okay about saying when they’re having a hard time with their mental health is incredible. I imagine that, like me, it alleviates some of the weight they feel. Then, it helps others who follow them or come across their posts see that this conversation is okay to have, too.
How the Internet Is Harmful and Reinforces Mental Health Stigma
Unfortunately, the Internet isn’t perfect in this area, and just as it provides space for honesty, openness, and safety in these conversations, it also presents opportunities to reinforce mental health stigma. Considering the vastness of the World Wide Web, this isn’t that much of a surprise, but it still sucks.
Today alone, I’ve seen people at each other’s virtual throats on social media over mental health conversations and using mental struggles as insults. I saw a post on Twitter that read, quite simply, "Morning" with a text image saying, "stop being depressed." As if things are that simple. As if depression is a choice that we all make for some reason.
That’s not even touching on the conversations over the past week or so about what seems to be a mental health crisis unfolding online for Ye (Kanye West). He has said he lives with bipolar disorder, and while there are folks expressing concern over how this may be impacting him, others are using it and his behaviors to laugh at and mock him.
So, Is the Internet Helpful or Harmful to Mental Health Conversations?
Realistically, it’s neither helpful nor harmful. The Internet is a thing. It's a conduit if you will. It’s not inherently good or bad. It’s reliant on how we use it.
It gives us space to have these conversations, but it’s up to us to steer them. What this comes down to, then, is two main things:
- How we initiate conversations about mental health
- How we react to conversations or situations concerning mental health
If we want to continue to make positive strides in mental health conversations—creating compassion and understanding while reducing stigma—we need to be the ones to make that happen. Even if it’s just in your little corner of the Internet, how you contribute matters.
Barton, L. (2022, February 21). The Internet and Combatting Mental Health Stigma, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2023, March 20 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/survivingmentalhealthstigma/2022/2/the-internet-and-combatting-mental-health-stigma
Author: Laura A. Barton
Yahoo to finding your voice! This is a key point: "The Internet provides a space to chip away at mental health stigma. It’s no longer just people within the mental health space or advocates being open about their struggles; it’s a wide range of people from all walks of life." -- it's also one that I agree with and I am so happy to see how this evolution has been unfolding.
Thanks, Lizanne! Me too. While I don't wish struggles on anyone, it's great to see that people feel comfortable talking about them if they do happen.