This post is in relation to the outpouring of unspecified support from people on Facebook or Instagram after a suicide or shooting or something “newsworthy” happens related to mental illness. It may be an unpopular opinion to hold, but it’s something that crosses my mind every time I see that statement.
Can I be one of the first people to say thanks, but no thanks?
The support is truly appreciated. But, as someone who dances with mental health issues on the regular, I can’t emphasize enough how uncomfortable it is to try and open up to someone randomly when you’re facing anything even remotely related to severe depression, anxiety, or feeling suicidal in any way.
The symptoms of mental illness already make you feel alienated enough and, again, as someone who experiences those things, I can tell you right now that reaching out to my peers is one of the last things I will do. It’s honestly hard enough to reach out to a therapist or doctor when experiencing those things.
My advice – if you’re someone who wants to be supportive and be there for others you know are struggling – CHECK IN ON PEOPLE! Honestly, even if you’ve seldom talked to someone before that point, if you get a feeling in your stomach that that person could use someone to talk to – DO IT. You don’t have to dig deep and try to ask specifically, “Hey, so I’m worried about your mental health and wanted to check in on you.” Unless you’re close with that person. In which case it might be okay to say those things. You can just send them a message or text and say how you were “thinking about them and wondering how they’ve been doing”.
Sometimes it can be very difficult to tell when someone’s struggling with mental health. It’s not like a broken arm or leg where you can see that someone is injured and in need of extra assistance. It’s an invisible illness that can be hard to detect, especially if you’re not sure what to look out for.
This is why I genuinely believe we need to treat each person we encounter with as much kindness and respect as possible. You truly have no idea what battle the person next to you is facing.
Now, I don’t want this post to be taken out of context. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t want to be an ally for those who struggle with mental health. You should. I greatly admire anyone and everyone who doesn’t experience mental illness and wants to be part of a support system for those that do. It’s a hard and confusing path to walk, and choosing to be an ally for anything you don’t experience outright is worth admiration.
However, I think there needs to be a better way to approach being an ally than by simply posting something on your Instagram or Facebook that says, “If you’re experiencing anything reach out and talk to me.”
In my opinion, it puts even more weight on that of the ill. While I completely believe it is all our responsibility to take care of ourselves when sick, whether mentally or physically, this is one area where I am torn. I think it’s important to speak up for yourself when you’re in need of support, but I also know what it looks like and feels like when you think you have made it clear to others that you are struggling or suffering and somehow no one has noticed what you say or post is actually you saying, “I could really use someone right now.”
Those of you who may have posted “reach out to me if you’re struggling” posts, please consider what it actually fully means to be an ally. Is supporting another person’s mental health something you actually want to and are willing to do? If so, like I said before, you should check in on your friends. Ask questions about them and their struggles and stresses, even if you feel silly asking. I can guarantee that the person struggling will appreciate you checking in on them individually and even more importantly, will remember that you are in fact an ally and they aren’t alone in this world with no one who cares. You’ve proven you care, in a way that’s a lot more personal and meaningful than just posting a generic “reach out to me” post.
Human connection is beautiful and by making that connection with others, I think we will actually have a positive impact on those struggling with depression, suicidal tendencies, anxiety, etc. While social media is an amazing thing and allows us to remain more connected than ever, don’t forget that some of those human elements are still required in order for social media to be the amazing tool that it is. Make a meaningful connection with someone and you never know, you may end up helping then more than you could even imagine.