An Ode to #MentalHealth Month

*Photo by Joel Mott on Unsplash

It’s Mental Health Awareness Month, but I bet you already knew that.

Social media is flooded with quotes and images and inspiring stories about coping with mental health issues. About addressing those concerns and those feelings and climbing that mountain on your own, but not really alone because also there’s a whole silent majority of people out there who are dealing with mental health struggles too.

And really, that’s amazing. Sharing that story, and spreading the light. Continuing the conversation so that it’s more normalized and the stigma can — finally, finally — be removed. Whether it’s anxiety or depression or PTSD or really pick your flavor of mental health battles, and it matters. It’s affecting a whole lot more people than you may realize in that quiet pocket of your neck of the woods, and it matters. You matter.

But what the posts don’t seem to address, from where I’m sitting at least, is that extremely curated elephant in the room. Social media — the same one that rallies behind a campaign and loves a shiny, uniting hashtag — can also be the root of a lot of our struggles. Now sure, I don’t mean social media causes mental illness (and I’m not a doctor or a pyschologist — just a health writer with my own personal experiences and opinions). Does it lead to self-doubt and anxiety, loneliness and a topple into the comparison trap, and yes, perhaps depression? I sure think so, and there are statistics to back that up, especially in young people (those born in 1995 or later).

So what would happen if we put our phones away a bit more often? If we embraced the FOMO and enjoyed time offline, with people in real life, instead of living vicariously through others we may or may not know on the other side of a screen and excessive blue light.

Maybe we don’t need to see what everyone else is doing all of the time. (Or what they want us to think that they’re doing all the time — because there’s a difference.)

Maybe, just maybe, we’d be less concerned about what someone else thinks, or about what the assumed expectations are for our lives. One less comparison, one less mindless scroll, one less post pushing you to join a diet you don’t need to be on or to pretend our lives are more glamorous than they actually are. I mean, I don’t know about you, but my days consist of a whole lot of time in a office, staring at a computer. There’s not much to take a selfie with, or elaborate, beautiful outfits or thought-out meals. And I think that’s okay. The silent pressure to visually prove yourself or adhere to someone else’s standards — an “influencer” or a celebrity — is not necessary. Personally, there’s a lot of boring, black J. Crew pants and messy hair and eggs with toast for dinner over here the majority of the time, and that’s just real life.

You don’t have to worry about keeping up with or competing with anyone else, never mind someone you maybe don’t even know but follow because 50,000 other people do. And so in the spirit of Mental Health Awareness Month, here’s a little reminder as you casually scroll through social media feeds, now and always:

If someone’s words or actions or just their overall vibe makes you feel bad about yourself, you can unfollow them. No matter who they are and how many followers they have. You have the power to choose what your precious time and attention is focused on each day.

You can choose not to feel guilty about not being a certain weight, or getting to the gym a certain amount of times per week, or eating cake at the office instead of celery juice. In fact, you can ignore diet culture altogether (and actually, please do!).

You can blink past the unsolicited advice and the filters that make you feel like you’re supposed to look picture perfect and how dare you if you don’t yet. Remember your journey is your own, your joy is yours to find and keep, and it will never stem from a social media post or the impact of a self-proclaimed online influencer.

Mental health is more than just one month of hashtags. Protecting it means actively seeking out the things that protect your heart and your well-being, and choosing to say no to anything that leaves you feeling worse than when you started.