How social media is helping us fight the stigma of mental health

by: Devaksha Vallabhjee - 10 October 2017

How social media is helping us fight the stigma of mental health

At a dinner with some friends a while ago, the topic of depression came up – as it often does these days. He jokingly told us about how, when he lived at home with his grandmother and confessed that he was depressed, she told him to “take a Grandpa and go to bed early.”

The story was received with laughter in solidarity. Everyone had experienced some version of the same dismissive attitude from a parent or elder when they brought up mental health.

I started thinking about it again when another friend tweeted that someone asked her, “what do you have to be depressed about?”

This comment showed a complete misunderstanding of how depression works.

Within a few minutes, the tweet had received replies from a number of people commiserating, offering their sympathy and generally saying “same!” at her expression of frustration.

Conversations about which anti-depressant pill you’re on, how to tell people about it, and how to take care of yourself aren’t spoken about in hushed tones anymore, and we partly have social media to thank for it.

When it comes to mental health, young people can rely on each other more than anyone else.

I have one friend whose panic attacks have made her question her place in every public space she steps into, and her coping mechanism has been to keep a WhatsApp chat running on her phone. Blue ticks soothe her.

Another friend who has depression has struggled to talk to me about it openly in the past. Yet on some nights, I’ll scroll through my Facebook timeline to see an article he’s shared about how people struggle to understand, talk about or react to depression. It’s his way of saying, “this is what I want you to know even though I can’t say it in person.”

And on countless other occasions, I’ve seen Twitter threads and replies from young people helping each other by sharing advice, similar experiences, therapist numbers and heart emojis in an attempt to validate or console.

Social media often gets a bad rep when it comes to mental health. There are studies about how Facebook fuels depression, how Instagram spurs anxiety and how hateful Twitter is. Contrastingly, there is a side to social media that is helping so many people deal with mental health too.

When we see people who are like us, talking about their experiences online, we become a little braver to talk about ours too. When we receive a supportive message in response, we experience less fear to open up to the next person.

Social media is not a millennial obsession without reason. It gives us access to people who are understanding of our issues and are willing to show up for us.

Project Demo finds the voices of young people in South Africa, amplifies their stories and turns their cause for change into a reality. Tell them your issue. They’ll take it on and campaign with you.