I’m sure you’re familiar with the term. If you don’t have experience with it yourself, there is probably a friend, member of your family, or even your favourite celebrity who has a mental health journey. You know, the heart palpitations, the profuse sweating, the excruciating stomach pains. Those are just the few symptoms I have also suffered with, as I have had anxiety for as long as I can remember. In fact, it has almost become so routine for me that I forget where it stemmed from, or how I even discovered it in the first place.
We are extremely lucky to live in a world where the stigma of mental health is becoming less attached as the days move forward. Gone are the days where being sick only consisted of a stomach bug, having poor mental health is finally accepted as being ill too. But how did we get to this stage? How did we discover that actually, we’re not all insane? We are normal. What we're feeling is absolutely okay.
Throughout the majority of my childhood, I had convinced my tiny mind that I was abnormal and weird, just like what the children on the playground used to call me. It wasn’t until my parents gave me access to the world of social media and the internet that I realised that actually, I’m not alone. I’m not weird. Social media may have its undeniable flaws, but if it wasn’t for these platforms would I even know I have anxiety at all?
Growing up, I pretty quickly realised I wasn’t like the other kids. I lacked that typical carefree, reckless attitude. I sat on the other end of the spectrum, my mind constantly working overtime. So surely that meant I was sick? I had sat in numerous assemblies where teachers would reinforce the importance of avoiding being poorly, and I was taught more ways to wash my hands than I was to do my times tables. However, no matter how many times I scrubbed underneath my nails and towel dried my wrists, this niggling feeling in both my stomach and my brain wouldn’t wash away. This sheer lack of education and awareness meant I lived in denial until my teenage years. School taught lessons on algebra and the Earth’s crust, the curriculum did not include defining such common conditions like anxiety, depression, and the ways in which they can be medicated. And as for the doctors? I was struggling enough having teachers confused at my behaviour, let alone trying to communicate such complex feelings to doctors who would only give me ignorant advice and patronising smiles.
Having access to the internet gave me a new sense of hope. The huge variety of websites and programmes enabled me to have freedom, I was able to click on online forum after online forum, with no condescending smiles waiting to greet me on the other side. Whilst the likes of Twitter and Google did not make my brain battle disappear, it did allow me to find an answer, acknowledgement, and general peace in my mind. Something I had yet to receive from a doctor, teacher, or friend.
But does this make it right? Twitter may have reassured me that no, I wasn't completely insane, but it didn't give me an official diagnosis for my anxiety. In fact, only last year did I receive this from my GP. Dennis Relojo-Howell is the founder of online blog Psychreg, a website that explores psychology, mental health and wellbeing. He believes that "it's fantastic that so many people are talking about mental health", and explores this throughout his blog, radio programme, and recently published book. That is not to say though, that he hasn't noticed the disadvantages of the stigma becoming slowly detached.
“Whilst it’s great that people are talking about mental health, sometimes there’s also tendency for content creators to accessorise mental health-because everyone seems to be talking about it that it now becomes a trendy topic. As a content creator, the challenge for me is to convey a genuine passion for this niche”.
I can’t help but agree with Dennis here. Whilst the internet acted as somewhat of a saviour in terms of my mental health journey, it has almost become a buzzword for those who are in the social media spotlight. Instagram posts with #anxiety and #mentalhealthawareness now receive the most clicks and attention, and of course the sole purpose of a social media influencer is to use their life to influence their following. Is this resulting in people relying on the internet for their diagnosis? Were my endless Google searches doing more harm than good?
"This [self-diagnosing] is harmful and it is never advisable to do so because of what you see online. In fact, I have a disclaimer about this on both my website YouTube channel. It is important that my readers realise that they need to speak to a mental health professional if they feel that they are struggling with mental health issues".
Dennis also reinforces his opinion that
"the benefits far outweigh the negative aspects of social media, it is an excellent platform to create conversations. These conversations can serve as impetus for change to improve the lives of people who are suffering with mental health issues."
The key word in this sentence being improve.
As a society, a lot of our personal gratification relies heavily on social media. Is what we're wearing okay, are we going to the right places on holiday, is our mental health comparable to other people we're following? The initial goal to use these platforms as a form of enjoyment and improvement on life is now a distant memory. Instead it is used as a measurement of success and competition, whose life is better than whose?
In a nutshell, yes, I agree that the internet should never replace your doctor-it is not a community that can offer official advice and medication. But when you're feeling lonely in a room surrounded by people, the simple access of an online friend, account or website may just be the light at the end of your tunnel.