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21st September 2018

Why depression should not be shared, liked, or commented on

Cachella Smith argues that the discussion surrounding mental illness on social media and the internet frequently normalises depression and undermines its seriousness and its medical treatment.
Why depression should not be shared, liked, or commented on
Photo: RyanMelaugh @Flickr

Mental illness remains one of the biggest internet topics of the day. While half of the social media world are campaigning for it to be taken seriously, the other half are sharing memes demeaning the subject. Given the health-related impact of this subject, why should social media have free reign to facilitate, and even encourage derogatory statements?

After years of portraying impossibly perfect lives on social media, we seem, lately, to have shifted to the other end of the spectrum. Instead of blemish-free photos and like-counts which approach infinity, internet users seem determined to make cynical jokes about their lives. Whatever your thoughts on this transition, there comes a real problem when comments on mental illness begin to become a part of this conversation.

One of the most detrimental trends at the moment is a certain encouragement to neglect proper treatment for mental illness in favour of so-called ‘natural treatments’. Put bluntly, fresh air or a stroll in the park are not effective treatments for long-term mental health conditions. A picture of a fluffy cat is quite simply not an ‘instant anti-depressant’. Similar advice is also shared around in real life, but the online world accelerates the circulation of such ideas. Of course, laughter is positive and exercise is beneficial, but it is likely that for a sufferer of mental illness these methods alone will not suffice.

Social media users need to stop telling people to listen to music, breathe, or take a country walk. Whilst these are useful methods in the short term and have the potential to have a real impact, there are huge dangers associated with prescribing these things in lieu of mainstream care.

Asserting that a mental illness is easily curable serves to dramatically undermine the severity of the situation. Medication may not be for everyone; equally though, it should not be rejected on the basis that a social media user has informed you that country strolls are just as effective. Bear in mind that medication is the answer for some people and if they are continually seeing these ‘natural treatments’ being shared online, they may be less inclined to choose the treatment that could potentially save their life. 

Memes like this and the use of the language of mental illness to describe normal emotions misinforms our perception of mental conditions. We begin here to approach the well-known debate of having a ‘down day’ versus having depression. For someone having a ‘down day’ or an abnormally low period, a chat with a friend or something similar can do a world of good. The complacent use of niche language and the broadcasting of undermining memes blurs the boundaries between mental illness and healthy emotions. This consequently erodes the notion of depression as an illness in its own right.

I completely support the movement to overcome stigmas but we cannot normalise mental illness to the point where it becomes the norm. Memes are supposed to be funny because they are relatable and this is exactly where the problem lies; mental illness is not relatable for the majority of the population.

As a side effect of breaking down the notion of mental illness, we begin simultaneously to mock the concept of mental wellness. The suggestion that such symptoms are so widely spread and so common calls the prospect of recovery into question. If panic attacks, depressive episodes, and suicidal thoughts are portrayed as unavoidable, the sufferer becomes more likely to accept these feelings and becomes less inclined to work towards a recovery.

So, no thank you Facebook, the most powerful anti-depressant does not have 4 hooves and a swishy tail, nor are two handfuls of cashews the therapeutic equivalent of a prescription dose of anti-depressants. The most powerful anti-depressant will come in a tablet form, will require serious consideration before being administered, and can be a very effective and realistic solution to a long-term mental health illness. Mental illness is just that, an illness, and how anyone could feasibly ‘like’ a comment that says it could be cured with a handful of nuts is beyond me.

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