I have a purpose. I have a voice. I am not loud, brash or screaming about it, but I am poignant, thoughtful and brimming with everything I could never say. In person I remain prone to freezing up like Frosty the snowman, or stuttering and stalling like a a winter’s morning car engine refusing to ignite. With writing however, I can clearly express my thoughts when they are clear. There are no pressures of someone staring at me, telling me to “spit it out” or interrupting me and not listening because they like to transmit too much. This is the power of the online voice – and I plan on utilising that opportunity, alongside many others in order to free my voice and say what I feel I need to.
Social Media has played a key role in many massive campaigns for tackling mental health stigma and getting people talking in real life about mental health. Time to Talk by Time to Change, Mind, Re-Think and many more have conducted online campaigns to raise awareness for mental health stigma, and how to challenge it. In addition it has been great because if in real life someone does not feel safe admitting to struggling with their mental health and emotions then online can be a great place to start.
Personally, many platforms, Twitter, Blogger, WordPress, Facebook, MySpace (back in the day) and forums have allowed me to accept and talk about my experiences with mental illness in addition to hearing from others. Thus leading to me, slowly but eventually, to come to terms with accepting my own experiences and talking about them in real life, with real people, outside of the security of therapy rooms with trained professionals. I can now talk about it with fellow patients I’ve met, with my friends and my partner: whereas before, even in a hospital I was very much of the, “you’re talking about it? And admitting you have a problem?” when considering the environment it really shouldn’t have been a shock to me. I think I expected to go there and for everyone to pretend to be normal or hiding in corners tucked away.
Talking has helped immensely with coming to terms with what has happened in my life and although I will sometimes shy away from these experiences in my real life, and even though I still struggle with acceptance I have found my voice online and am starting to find it in real life as a result. I think this speaks true for many others out there.
As a result of the power of the virtual voice, Social Media has strengthened the anti-stigma, anti-discrimination agenda and brought it onto the public agenda including within the mass media, #FindMike for example. We have moved forward and online campaigns have reached out to our real daily lives. Time to Talk for example is encouraging us all to tackle the taboo of talking about mental health in real life over a steaming cuppa with a custard cream. This doesn’t mean we need to be morbid, negatively focusing on our darkest days or revealing our secrets but being able to answer “how are you?” honestly, being able to accept that we all have mental health and that if you do want to talk about your darkest days, that is also OK. In addition they have previously made campaigns and petitions in order to tackle stigmatising products within our shops, such as “Mental Patient” Halloween costumes, and the “Mental Institute” themed ride at a Thorpe Park, in addition to tackling discriminating headlines and articles within the media.
For me, I have found the social shame, discrimination and stigma attached to mental health to be one of the most distressing aspects of experiencing such difficulties. The secrecy I have felt trapped in, the living a lie, a double life has been very difficult to maintain, and often resulted in complete withdrawal, and because I have been unable to be honest and open about my difficulties people don’t understand. How can they if we are bound to silence by stigma, yet how can we tell anyone if we are shamed?
These fears weren’t based within my own anxieties either. Within school I felt very stigmatised by myths, misconceptions and the generic stigma of, “yes, it is embarrassing. I’m sorry for shouting at you about that in front of the class” – I mean, I shouldn’t have even been shouted at.
Now I know better. Although I am not exactly shouting from the rooftops to my whole town and neighbourhood, I am using social media and online media to find and use my voice in order to help and educate others from a lived experience perspective, as well as encouraging others that it is ok: we all have mental health. Anyone can become mentally unwell and that is OK. The stigma towards those struggling from others though, is not – and the power of the virtual voice is empowering millions to speak up, and participate in campaigns that they might not otherwise have done.
I write about mental health at: theimmuredlion.wordpress.com