Shame and Mental Health in the Social Media World

by Sep 20, 2021

Social media has its pros and cons, especially when it comes to our mental health. 

Even in 2021, a stigma exists when it comes to mental illness and mental healthcare. So much so that many people still hide their mental illness from friends and family. This can stem from a variety of reasons, from family and cultural beliefs about mental illness to a fear of rejection. 

Social media doesn’t help.

Studies have shown that while social media can improve our mental health by fostering human connection, it can also be very bad for our mental health by causing us to compare ourselves to others–another version of shame.

As a mental healthcare professional, you want to help people heal, grow and to live better and happier lives.

When it comes to mental health, how can you use social media for good? 

The beauty of social media is that it is your platform–to say what you want, to fight for what you believe in, and to spread ideas. For example, the idea that mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of and that mental healthcare is important and necessary. 

Social media is the perfect tool for de-stigmatizing mental illness. 

The Stigma Behind Mental Illness

There are many reasons a stigma still surrounds mental illness. Many times it comes from family or cultural beliefs.

If someone grows up in a family that doesn’t believe in or downplays mental illness, they will not feel comfortable talking to their family about their experience.

Some cultural and religious beliefs also heavily stigmatize mental illness. The teachings of someone’s religion, for example, may indicate that mental illness happens for certain reasons or that prayer or other rituals can completely cure it. 

Another reason behind the stigma of mental illness could be the increasing number of mass shootings attributed to mental illness.

A 2012 survey found that news stories about mass shootings that mention a history of mental illness “appear to play a critical role in influencing negative attitudes towards persons with serious mental illness.”

The reactions of friends may also play a part. Some people suffering from mental illness say that friends and partners have told them they are annoyed, embarrassed or “fed up” with the behaviors they exhibit due to depression, anxiety or more serious mental illnesses like bipolar disorder. 

Social Media and Mental Illness

Social media, with its prominent place in contemporary society, often is a mixed bag when it comes to fighting mental illness and the stigma associated with it. 

There are a few ways that social media use can help with an individual’s mental health:

  • Helping users to stay in touch and up-to-date with family and friends
  • Providing access to emotional support, especially for those who live in a remote area or far away from friends and family
  • Providing an outlet for self-expression and fostering not only creativity but self-esteem.

On the other hand, social media can often make us feel inadequate about our lives or our appearance, exposing us to cyberbullying and even sometimes cause us to feel more alone. 

Some of the most harmful platforms–Instagram and TikTok–are also the ones most used by teens and young adults, making these users especially vulnerable to the negative effects of social media.

Instagram users have long been famous for their heavy use of filters and for normalizing a type of “show-off” culture. Influencers photoshop their bodies, lie about where and how they’re traveling, and hawk some questionable products–but users keep coming back for more.

According to a survey of almost 1,500 teens and young adults, Instagram is the worst social media platform for mental health.

While users felt that Instagram allows for self-expression, they also felt that the social media giant increases feelings of anxiety, depression and FOMO, or the “fear of missing out.”

Even more worrisome, a recent trend on TikTok has users showing off their self-harm scars. Many people feel this does more harm than good, by romanticizing self-harm instead of helping sufferers to manage their impulses. 

Using Social Media to Combat the Stigma

So how can mental healthcare professionals actually use social media to help promote good mental health and de-stigmatize mental illness and mental healthcare? 

Even though social media can clearly be bad for us, it also gives us a platform for talking openly about mental illness.

Social media is already being used for this purpose. The #MentalHealth hashtag has been used on nearly 30 million public Instagram posts and has generated 11 billion TikTok views.

The users creating this content are both everyday people and also celebrities and influencers. Opening up about their mental health and their struggles normalizes mental illness and the need for mental healthcare.

As mental healthcare professionals, you can use your platform for sharing these types of stories and encouraging others to share their stories.

By starting your own blog about mental illness, you can let people know that they’re not alone and that they can and should reach out for help. By sharing self-care tips on social media you can reinforce the idea that mental illness is normal and we all have to work at it to prevent it or manage it.

By educating your audience, you can reduce the stigma associated with mental illness.

It seems like a lot, but you can start small.

One way you can get started on educating your audience on mental illness and mental healthcare is through Instagram’s Guides feature. The Guides feature allows you to create themed groups of posts for your followers. For example, you could create Guides on how to practice self-care, how to get through a panic attack, how to talk to your family about mental illness, and more.

Ready To Make a Difference?

As a leader in the mental healthcare field, you have the capability to open up dialogue about mental illness and to work to fight stigma–and that’s powerful.

Whether you’re looking for help with social media, to improve your website or for a complete re-do on your marketing plan, we can help. Schedule a chat with Beth on the calendar below.


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