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The Connection Between Social Media, Technology, and Mental Health

Unless you live “off the grid” in this world, you can find endless information about “Mental Health” in every social media platform, website, app, or through Google.

It has become such a Buzzword in our culture, that it has become household terminology. It has become a question that family doctors ask you now, as if it is just a typical part of their lingo, when it comes time for your checkups. “How is your mental health?”

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It Wasn’t Always This Way

Before websites and talk shows like Dr. Phil, and The Doctors graced our TV’s, Mental Illness was NEVER TALKED ABOUT. Before all of the available websites and self help pages, and people online, trying to help those of us with PTSD, Depression, and Anxiety became an open conversation, one would have to go into Chapters or other bookstores, to the very back, where the cobwebs grew, to find books to help us with such topics. It was simply a topic that made us feel ashamed to speak about out loud.

Alternatively, you could go into libraries and pull books about Mental Disorders off the shelf and hide in a quiet corner to read about signs and symptoms. The books were written by well known Dr. Spock, or Freud, or hundreds of others, and every professional had their own “take” on why we felt the way we did. Phrases like “daddy issues” or Freudian slip” were commonly used. We didn’t check the books out and take them home, for fear of judgment from family members, or the Librarian. It was a dark secret that was never divulged openly.

There were fictional books, of course, that touched on mental illness. Authors wrote stories about “crazy people” who suffered from depression and anxiety, PTSD, or the like, but those characters were almost Taboo. Think about The Shining, by Stephen King (1980). Jack Torrance was a messed up, seriously mentally ill character, who we all feared. He clearly suffered from a mental disorder that was never labeled or outlined. He was simply MAD.

Then there is Psycho, by Robert Bloch. (1960)-Norman Bates was a terrifying murderer, who suffered from a number of mental disorders. There were so many movies and books over 3 or 4 decades, that caused the visualization of mental illness, to be extreme and terrifying.

THAT was a mental illness, and how it was portrayed before it became a “regular topic”. People who watched such movies, or read these books, who had mental illness, feared these characters because they were “crazy”. Mental illness was dubbed as being “mental” if we suffered from it back then, so we kept it hidden or silent, in hopes that we wouldn’t turn into a Jack or a Norman. If we felt, in the slightest, that we could relate to crazy people-fictional or real, we would secretly seek help. Enter the World Wide Web

When gadgets and the internet became more and more prevalent, so did all of our feelings, emotions, and psyche.

It became our Wonderland where we could search diagnosis for our own personal demons, without having to “speak” to anyone. Whether what we found was 100% truth or not, it was there, so we could search our feelings in Google and see what popped up. Since then, there has been no need to see therapists or find help with psychiatrists. We try and find relatable content, and work on ourselves, based on what the words on the websites say. Or, we watch shows like Dr. Phil or The Doctors and find the websites that they pop up into their programs, to help you.

Additionally, there are MILLIONS of people online who have opened up and shared their deepest, darkest feelings and emotions, and who start Movements to encourage others to help.

It has snowballed exponentially, as more daily awareness is encouraged and shared (or overshared).

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It Has Become Open Dialogue

EVERYONE talks about it now.

It doesn’t matter who we talk to now. Anxiety and Depression are two illnesses that are frequently spoken of. PTSD has funding in some countries, for treatment and help. No one keeps their mental symptoms and signs to themselves anymore, and even many employers encourage Mental Health options to their staff.

Facebook Statuses, Instagram and Twitter posts are continually posted, with people reaching out, or asking for advice.

It has become its own network. You are either seeking help or giving help, openly and without conviction. Everyone is either “here to help” or “needing help”, and it has become a plague in our culture.

The Semicolon tattoo became the “thing” over the past few years, to show off your mental illness status.

Books are placed in the front of stores now, on open displays, offering guidance for any mental disorder or disfunction we can think of, and Psycho Therapists and Psychiatrists are no longer putting blame on your past. They now look at the here and now, and making us accountable for our present actions, rather than digging around in our cerebral cortexes and old mental images of our childhood. They give us tools on how to be better people from NOW on, and to not obsess about what made us who are up until this point.

As helpful as all of the awareness and widespread openness is, though, is it helpful to our society?

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The Chicken or the Egg

Which came first?

Was mental illness always as predominant and rampant as it is presented NOW? Or has the internet and all of the social media awareness caused it to be the trend that it appears to be?

Anxiety and Depression are a common thread for all of us now. It has become “almost” easier to talk about with friends on Facebook, than politics or weather. We can join groups who share common fears and trauma, we are able to sip wine and talk about what “triggers” we have, and how we handle it, as we click the keyboards on our gadgets to communicate. We talk about mental health with our children and seek help for them through our peers or through the millions of referrals of websites and pages online.

It has become EASY for us.

But, consider this. What IF the reason that Mental Illness is so widespread right now, is BECAUSE of the internet and all it has to offer.

What IF Social Media and it’s content and availability has been the trigger to spread mental illness?

WHAT? (Mind Blown).

If we think about all of the resources and people, and the way our gadgets and computer screens have moved into our lives, it makes you wonder if it hasn’t started this World Wide Plague of mental health issues.

If we THINK we suffer from any type of mental issues, we can easily relate to others and talk about it. However, there is an issue with the following:

  1. Just because we relate to what we read, we cannot diagnose ourselves. We still need to seek professionals for diagnosis.
  2. Buying into depression and anxiety does NOT give us Mental Illness.
  3. Mental illness should never be used as an “Excuse” for living. It can be talked about easily, so it gives us permission to access it as part of our lives as a reason to not conduct ourselves in a “normal” manner.
  4. Accessibility can be a crippling factor. Humans no longer have to “work” to build relationships and social capacities. Everything is literally at our fingertips, giving us the ability to hide within our environments and not become part of the outside world-causing social disorders and mental rebellion.

I strongly believe that all of the #awareness and #movements have become a soapbox for all of us to place ourselves on, in order to give ourselves a reason to avoid the REAL issues. That soapbox is a symbol of the mental challenges that we root, as we delve deeper into the opinions of others.

If you think about the popularity and focus on Mental Health Awareness now, it is coming from the very generation who were raised in our digital world. The Web and Social Media, and all of the components and attachments that come with them started to become prevalent about 25 years ago.

Statistically, one in four people in the world will be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, based on World Health Report, and the highest number is within the age category of 15–24 years of age.

Coincidence? I think not. Facebook came out in 2004, for example, which is right around the time when this stat started to become reality.

So, much like the chicken and the egg, I ask you, Which Came First. Was it the high stats of mental illness, or was the WWW the culprit for igniting the growth of neurological dysfunction.

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Our Family Lives

When was the last time you, as a parent, weren’t “Plugged in” and on Social Media when your children shared your space?

Are your children on video games and social media when they are in your space?

How does this impact your relationships within your family? Are you aware of how your child functions socially? Do you, as a parent, feel that your mental health is “healthy” while you scroll through Pinterest, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter?

What are the conversations like in your home? Do you have meaningful conversations about real life, or are they based on topics from your Social Media world?

Teenage life is a CHALLENGE. Long before the internet took over our worlds, the raging of hormones, peer pressure, school/life balance, and bullying was in the world of our teenagers. Now, just like you and I, they have access to the web for answers to tough questions. “Why do I feel so alone?” “I hate my body. Why do I feel so ugly?” “Why doesn’t that person like me?” and “Why am I not popular?” are REAL problems, just to name a few, for kids in their teen years.

Do you want your child to learn how to handle their fears and issues from other sources besides yourselves?

Parenting can be as challenging and rewarding as we want it to be, or it can be a breeze, as we hide in our Social Media worlds and allow it answer your kiddo’s questions. But, the end results will vary, depending on your interactions with your kids.

Just because your kids CAN access everything they want to know online, doesn’t mean they should. They NEED the social tools and interactions to develop into mentally stable adults. They NEED to be accountable and learn to work for their own sanity. The NEED to be able to have conversations with their parents and to be transparent and feel safe enough to do so.

There is no greater gift to offer your child, than the freedom to learn how to live without the entrapment of Social Media. How can teens and young adults learn how to adapt to what the world has to offer if they spend their lives in a virtual world?

Social Media is a wonderful tool for learning everything about NOT being social. The term itself is an Oxymoron.

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Oh, The Irony.

One of my closest friends lives two doors down from me. We see each other, in real life, on average 8 times per year. We talk through Text, Facebook and on occasion, Twitter.

She and I have both been diagnosed and medicated for Anxiety and Depression, and she started a Woman’s Only page on Facebook for a platform to share our challenges and help/support each other. It’s a decent page, but I avoid it at all costs. even after she added me to it as a member. I find it exhausting and contagious.

I have asked my dear friend to join me in a few Social outings, such as concerts, wine and paint nights, and the like, knowing full well, she will agree, and back out on me in the last minutes of our date. She blames her anxiety and retreats back to her bed, as she scrolls through her accounts on her phone. I go out. Sometimes with a replacement partner, and sometimes alone. But I make myself GO.

Recently my friend shared a post of her Anxiety group:

“Dear members. I am letting you all know that I am taking a break from this page, as I find it is too difficult for me to read your posts and shares. I have been struggling with depression and feel that I cannot be a part of the shares and stresses of all of your lives at this time. I have taken a break from Social Media over the past week, and find that my anxiety level has dropped significantly. I hope you all understand. Thank you for being a part of this journey.”

Do you see what I see?

This was HER page. Her group. She started it to help herself and others with mental challenges but found that her mental disorders are BETTER when she isn’t engaged with it. Let that sink in.

She has yet to come out in public with me, as she has very high spectrum depression and anxiety. She needs to find some outside help and pull herself out of the wreckage she lives in. She also has two teenage daughters who suffer from mental disorders.

As much as I would love to offer help, I know that I cannot be much assistance for her to be able to participate in the real world. Only she can do that. As much as I care about her and can support her, the answers cannot be found through Texting, Facebook or other gadget-driven assistance. She needs to physically get out.

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So, What Now?

It would be ridiculous to suggest that everyone should resort to “old school” values and social interaction.

It would be equally ridiculous to assume that my writing on an internet platform would drive home the importance of tuning out of the internet and living real lives.

It won’t happen.

This is our world. This is the direction that the human race is headed, and is plowing through like a heard of collective cattle.

It’s the mentality that needs to change in our world. Learning how to function in a world of reality and to not be influenced by every little thought or opinion of the virtual world, is how we can move past the stigma and the contagion of mental illnesses and dysfunction.

In a world of hypersensitivity and seeing everything as a threat to our culture, that is all social media based, we need to step back and re-evaluate. We need to look at the infrastructure of our mentality and make some changes for our future generations.

Movements and looking at past generations as “Offensive” is feeding off all of us. That is where so many thoughts of social distortion come from. We question our pasts and our parent’s and grandparent’s values and ethics. We find reason and meaning in ridiculous words and symbols that make us overthink and analyze our society. The culture we live in blames the past for everything that is wrong or offensive today.

Things like Christmas music, historical monuments, art forms and books give the new generation topics to see as “problematic and offensive”. Yet they don’t see the huge picture that stares them in the face EVERY SINGLE DAY.

They don’t see the controversy that fuels the fires of anxiety, mental stressors, and even suicidal thoughts. Everyone is so caught up in the voices of the virtual world, that they don’t hear the voices in their own heads.

They don’t see that there are actual crisis situations all around our globe, that need to be fixed and worked on-Oil and gas, global temperature, poverty, political corruption, homelessness, animal abuse, and on and on. It is LIFE out there and it needs our help. Posting and sharing about it on social media doesn’t impact the outcome in the way it intends to, unfortunately. It causes us all to crawl back into our dark rooms and fear the trauma of it all.

Yet, someone, somewhere, posts a hashtag with metoo attached to it, and the world simultaneously gets caught up in a tornado of mental illness and an international virtual argument.

THAT, is the root of our world of hyperextended mental illnesses.

It honestly makes me want to retreat to my bed and become the person who fears the real world, as I scroll through my phone, searching for answers.

But, I won’t. I know it’s not good for my social anxiety.

This story is published in The Startup, Medium’s largest entrepreneurship publication followed by +397,714 people.

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