You’ve probably seen some of the posts about mental health on social media, if you’re like most people today and have accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram.
Mental health is being talked about more and more lately with campaigns like Bell’s Let’s Talk Day, and hashtags like #depression and #MentalHealthAwareness. During Mental Health Awareness Week from May 1-7, these will probably flood your newsfeed with information and inspiration.
Social media provides a platform to break down barriers that some people may have when it comes to understanding the complicated issue of mental illnesses.
According to the Centre for Addictions and Mental Health (CAMH), mental illness is still very common among Canadians, especially those between the ages of 15 and 24. According to the organization, ever year, one of every five Canadians will experience a mental health or addiction problem.
Kari Burnett, 25, lives in Regina and has struggled with anxiety and depression every day for the last 10 years, which she says is from being bullied throughout her schooling. She finds it difficult to confide in people who don’t face a mental illness.
“I just (get) this deep, dark feeling and some days it’ll just hit me and I don’t know why, so it’s really hard to explain to someone who doesn’t have it. I try to say it’s like you’ve had the worst day of your life, but it could last for months,” said Burnett.
A Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) report released last year provided statistics about their latest campaign #Getloud – website traffic increased by 47 per cent and they had a 13 per cent increase in “Likes” on Facebook.
These hashtags and social media movements seem to be breaking down the stigma around mental illness, however, some people still don’t feel comfortable telling people close to them, like their employers, when they are depressed or anxious.
“The biggest struggle is when I’m having an off day, I can’t call my work and say, ‘I can’t get out of bed this morning.’ Any time I’ve ever called in sick, I’ve lied and said I have the flu or a cold,” said Burnett.
CAMH says 57 per cent of Canadians believe that stigma associated with mental illness has been reduced compared to five years earlier, but 39 per cent of Ontario workers said they would not tell their managers if they were experiencing a mental health problem.
“I feel like it’s not a real reason to call in sick, which is weird because you can call in and say you’re hungover and not coming to work, but I can’t say I’m so depressed I can’t get out of bed this morning,” said Burnett.
Dr. Kent Klippenstine, manager of counselling services at the U of R, says social media can be great to make connections, seek help, and raise awareness, but it can also be detrimental for those looking for acceptance.
“If a person is comfortable in their own skin, posting and saying ‘this is just my experience,’” says Klippenstine. “But if they’re doing it expecting anything back or expecting certain responses, then it was never about the post, it was about the reaction.”
Eighty-one per cent of Canadians are more aware of mental health issues compared to five years ago, which is partly due to social media.
Burnett admits that she has felt better seeing some mental illness posts online that made her feel like she’s not alone, but also feels like some people ruin it for others who are seriously struggling.
“It always makes me mad (because) I feel like they’re trying to get attention. Maybe it’s because I would never (post) if I’m having a breakdown or a bad day (and) I think there’s judgment there. Not that people shouldn’t talk about it, but it’s a close personal thing that should be discussed with family and friends,” said Burnett.