Navigating the World of Online Mental Health Awareness

You browse your social media feed and navigate to the content you recommend. A specific video appears, where the creator describes a list of symptoms that leads him to conclude that he suffers from depression. What’s odd is that these symptoms sound a lot like things you experience every day. But you don’t know who that person is, if they’re right, or what you’re supposed to do now.

You skip to the next video, but the implications of what you just saw linger in your mind.

This type of social media experience is common, especially among active users. There is always some content that should be consumed with caution, such as articles on food culture or parenting. A wide variety of conflicting opinions and harmful behaviors that are conveyed as facts are detrimental to unwitting users, and the same pattern occurs with mental illnesses.

That’s not to say that the vast amount of information on social media doesn’t have its benefits. On the Internet, people are much more comfortable sharing their experiences and have often created online forums where they can develop a sense of belonging. They can find encouragement to overcome their personal struggles and finally receive validation for what they have been through all along. But where does the other shoe fall?

The problem with a lot of mental illness content is that it quickly becomes a numbers game to gain a sizable following on social media platforms. These types of accounts have grown in popularity over the past few years, and other users have quickly produced similar content.

This rat race leads directly to the promotion of unreliable and misleading information, and content where creators exaggerate their own experiences to make it look like they have a mental illness so they can receive more views. It takes away the focus and validity from those who are genuinely trying to raise awareness about mental health. Additionally, unsuspecting content viewers may figure out that they’ve had similar symptoms, sparking a wave of people mislabeling themselves with mental health issues.

This wouldn’t be such a big problem if it weren’t for the fast speed of information dissemination these days – content is delivered so quickly that there’s no time for it to get saturated among the public and for anyone to think thoughtfully about the information they consume. To solve this problem, some might suggest imposing an age limit, preventing young people from watching and consuming this type of content. However, it doesn’t seem fair to ostracize children who may be seeking reassurance online. In fact, it challenges one of the main purposes of social media – our goal is to use these platforms wisely, not to exclude the communities that benefit from them. It also becomes difficult to draw a line between those who have been professionally diagnosed and those who have self-diagnosed without invalidating anyone’s experiences and struggles.

The best solution is to become better informed before jumping to conclusions or taking action based on ill-informed advice. This way, people can really wonder if they are assuming certain traits and symptoms because they saw them online, or if those symptoms have always been part of their everyday life. Together, smart media consumption and responsible content creation prevent misinformation from reaching a popular platform and spreading potentially harmful rhetoric.

It all comes down to people needing to stop blindly consuming content online. For those too young to make that judgment, less biased content should be promoted. Information from professionals rather than random users with a platform should be seen first. The goal should not be to discourage people from posting their experiences or going on social media, but to limit the amount of this content that appears unprecedented, as well as to restrict blatantly false information.

About Stephen Ewing

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