Can social media help with depression? Miz de Shannon insightfully unfolds the nuances of social media that could potentially help millions with mental health symptoms
I was prompted to write this blog after an incident that a lot of people who are open about their depression and anxiety suffer a lot more than I have. One of the few people I trusted to talk to about my plummeting mood in recent months, responded a few weeks later by telling me I was just “having a wig out' – so judgemental, so hurtful, and safe to say that person isn't part of the Circle of Trust any more.
But the incident made me think of who my Circle of Trust consisted of, and how it worked, or rather, how I worked.
I think I've suffered from depression and anxiety for longer than I realised, looking back. That common idea of having a 'black cloud' that follows you around, holding you back from achieving everyday tasks effectively, from socialising with confidence, from believeing in yourself, not letting you maximise on those abilities you thought you had. It's not a new concept at all, but it's a very true one I can assure you. There are vastly different degrees of depression and anxiety as some people know – for me they go hand-in-hand, depression following anxiety once I've exhausted myself stressing over life and it's every minutae. I've realised though how important one particular thing is to me, that I didn't realise was so much of a crutch before.
The kind of judgement I faced recently is faced every day by people suffering from mental illness, and it hurts. We all know it's wrong to look down on and belittle people with physical differences, but chronic and mental differences are so often overlooked. I think maybe somewhere in my mind knowing that kind of judgement existed is what made me want to deal with my anxiety in a very solitary way, once I acknowledged that it existed. Being an only child, with no family to rely on now, my friends have been my network for most of my adult life, my Circle of Trust, but I have therefore always had this insistance to learn how to live, not wanting to be dependent on anyone or anything, not wanting to compromise anything in my Circle of Trust, and making sure that I always did maximise on my abilities and my relationships. Easier said than done, sometimes, particularly when you've noticed the black cloud.
At the opposite end of the Circle of Trust and those select few friends, are the hundreds of friends on social media – 'friends', some people you've never even shared an office with, never mind shared feelings with. Social media brings all the obvious things of connecting you with people across world, keeping up with old acquaintances, but most importantly I find it very personal.
Whilst there are those who create their facades, non-reality for what they do, what they are, there are a lot of people who are very honest. And this is the point at which my depression becomes social. Not in the sense that I talk about it all the time – that would defeat all of my ideas about keeping-on-keeping on and being brave of course – but in the sense that my depression needs social media, like some people need a counsellor. I've realised that it is my crutch.
Whilst being determined to 'face the world' and 'be brave', that bravery admittedly has it's detrimental side. When you do face the world alongside your black cloud, people think you're okay, which isn't surprising really when depression and anxiety are hard things for people to conceive as it is, never mind in someone who is always bright and bubbly. So I've been thinking lately what I actually do to mentally prepare myself to physically leave the house, to get out of bed even, when the anxiety of the day ahead hits and there's no one there.
I read Twitter.
Now that sounds utterly ridiculous doesn't it – how is reading a newsfeed full of waffle about people's breakfasts, #firstworldproblems and cat's activities make me feel any better, better enough to get over an bout of anxiety?
Well it isn't about everyone else is it, it’s about me, if you hadn't realised the selfish and self-absorbed nature and lack of openness in my anxiety already.
Time, I take time. I read what I have done over the past few days, the past week. I look at the photos I've taken, the work I've done, the people I've talked to. Spending an amount of time feeling scared but not knowing what of, finding daily activities like getting up and dressed to leave the house for work becoming exhausting, then noticing that trying to do that work properly and effectively just adds to the anxiousness, doesn't really bode well for a balanced life. But the realisation that I have actually achieved those things over a period of days previous to the current anxious feeling DOES bode well for a balanced life, or at least helps me an awful lot to make the building blocks to get there, without adding to the anxiety of having to trust or rely on someone else.
My social media acts as a diary of what I've done, what I achieved, it logs my achievements and when they've happened.
Yes there's the back-patting, the 'likes' and the 'comments', but it feels good to read back people who say "well done you did well" and "we like that idea why don’t you come to our class?". It doesn't always matter who they are – because remember this is all about me.
I've realised that despite the fake and fickle nature of what other people say on social media, that my own feed is my support – there are dark times when the little black cloud is so close to me I can't see the end of my nose, but once it's shifted itself just a little bit, I remember to grab my phone and check my social.
Some people manage to find a good counsellor, some have a hugely supportive family, some don't and don't know what to do or where to turn. So maybe social is a start – as well as being daily motivation for myself, contrary to the (supposedly) wild and crazy social life I have to stop boredom setting in, social is an integral part of my daily task list to get me out of the house and functioning. It’s also got me some new friends, some new activities, and some more smiles along the way.
And I've also actually learnt so much about social in the last few years that it's now an integral part of a pretty great job I'm in, so there's a bonus in itself.
Supportive social – populate it when you feel good, and it'll be there for you when you don't. Now there's a strapline my boss would be proud of.
Don’t know where to start? Here are a few pointers:
- Balance your own life on social – be yourself, add your achievements, and feel proud to do so.
- Even the most inane things will be beneficial when you look back – you went to that yoga class, you saw that person on the street who you met at last month’s event, you cooked that wonderful food.
- Ignore other people’s ‘do this, don’t do that’ about social – its your social, if you’re happy cuddling the cat in front of the TV one night so be it.
- Add photos – when you look back, and your brain isn’t connecting, or in the mood for reading, seeing some nice bright photos is always a good start.
- When you’re ready, make conversations – as I said, these small tasks and comments on my daily activities have actually made me some lovely new friends who know I appreciate them IRL too, and vice versa.