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OPINION: Social media therapy offers opportunities to vent, and to connect, during Mental Health Awareness Month

Post-Tribune - 5/16/2022

May 16—"Sometimes the world feels like too much to handle, and too much to carry. I've been MIA due to being in the hospital. I was admitted for suicidal thoughts."

A social media friend of mine posted this startling admission on her Facebook page. It's not as uncommon as you'd think. I've been searching for related posts on Twitter and Instagram, and I keep finding them. I'm told that Tik-Tok is flooded with similar video confessionals.

It's described as social media therapy, illustrating the radical normalization of mental health discussions. Although Facebook can feel faceless at times, it's a 24/7 sounding board for many users who may otherwise suffer in silence. And in anguish.

"I apologize in advance for the ramblings that will probably be posted on my Facebook wall in the coming days. It seems healthier to scream them into the void of Facebook than to keep them inside my brain," another social media friend wrote on his page.

He shared raw feelings about his recent out-of-state trip to visit his dying mother.

"It was a week of tough conversations, an education in hospice and end-of-life decisions, and a time to bond with my siblings like I've never had before," he wrote. "Tough things that have left me feeling a million feelings all at the same time and completely numb from it all."

If you look for these kind of online posts, you'll find them everywhere. And on every social media platform.

"I'm depressed again and I feel alone in a world of strangers," a woman shared on Twitter last week.

All of us have inner dialogues with ourselves that no one else ever hears. Some of us conjure up perceived realities in our mind that may not actually exist. Their imagination can run amok with intrusive thoughts or dangerous notions. They presuppose twisted ideas or emotional constructs that rattle around only in their head, screaming out for attention to anyone who will listen.

When no one in their life will listen any longer, or at all, they turn to social media to vent their feelings, no matter how desperate they may sound to the "world of strangers."

"I'm so tired of nobody caring," an older woman I know wrote on her Facebook page. "And they're probably tired of me too."

The isolating confines of social media therapy can gradually become a deceptive house of mirrors reflecting our fears, doubts, anxiety and mental health troubles.

"If you care about others, you can learn about them instead of judge them. You can educate yourself about human behavior and others' diagnosis," states a copy-and-paste post now circulating the internet on multiple social media platforms.

"The effects of my mental illness may make appearances now and again. It's not who I am. It doesn't define my whole being," the post explains.

Millions of people could have written it. I personally know dozens of people who fit that description. I have several friends and acquaintances who struggle with chronic depression, though we've never once uttered that word to describe their struggle. It's as obvious as a thunderstorm, yet as invisible as an intrusive thought.

Their polite smiles and chitchat attempt to mask their worries. Their mind overthinks casual conservations. Their emotional demons taunt them afterward. Being engaged with others every day can feel forced and tortuous. Being alone every night can feel like a prison sentence in solitary confinement. They feel shackled to their fears.

"Everyone is fighting a battle, and sometimes you need to be kinder," the viral post reminds people.

It also reminds us that May is Mental Health Awareness Month, the perfect opportunity to reach out for help or look beyond social media therapy for severe situations. Also the perfect excuse for those who want to offer help.

"Together for Mental Health" is this year's theme for the National Alliance on Mental Illness, which encourages people to share their personal story through the organization's blog, videos, digital tool kits, social media engagements or national events.

"Together, we can realize our shared vision of a nation where anyone affected by mental illness can get the appropriate support and quality of care to live healthy, fulfilling lives," the organization's website states. (Contact its help-line at 800-950-NAMI or by texting NAMI to 741741.)

Other local organizations are also a text or call away, as well as friends, family and co-workers who likely want to help but don't know how. They see the troubling social media posts screaming for help without using exclamation marks. They see the cries for attention to no one in particular. They feel the emotional pain through their electronic screens.

Problem is, clicking on a "sad" emoji seems like such an inadequate response. Writing on someone's post — "Sorry to hear this" — feels just as insufficient. It's like bringing a thimble of water to a raging house fire. We have a water tower of empathy but no way of properly funneling it to those in need.

It seems so simple when it's someone else's life that needs water. It feels so complicated when it's our life on fire.

"If you need help, seek it!"

This was the advice from my social media friend who admitted herself into a hospital to address her suicidal thoughts. Others with similar troubles have advice for those of us holding thimbles brimming with good intentions.

"Be part of the healing. Be understanding. Be kind."


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