When an individual experiences mental health difficulty, they need a more informed opinion around what is the best approach to take
In recent years, we have seen increased awareness around being open about our mental health and mental health in general.
Whilst this is welcome, is the message a little premature for a topic that is still over stigmatised?
Discrimination around mental health issues still exists and therefore I would argue that we are a little too ambitious around the mental health narrative that exists in Ireland today.
An educational approach may be the way forward in how we discuss mental health as opposed to direct social media messaging to those of us who may be struggling.
It may be a little intimidating for people to jump from being aware that their mood is ‘off’ to having to be open about their mental health and to talk to someone.
We are increasingly observing a softening of the mental health narrative across media, in particular social media.
I am referring to phrases such as ‘Be kind to yourself', or ‘10 tips for self-care’ being promoted by platforms that may not be the best go to media for support in terms of mental health advice.
While the intent is positive and aimed at individuals who may be experiencing difficulty, I would argue that these soft messages around mental health may actually be counter-productive.
When an individual experiences mental health difficulty, they need a more informed opinion around what is the best approach to take as they are faced with, possibly the most vulnerable time of their lives.
For a society that now rewards the ‘quick fix’, social media has become a playground for tokenistic messages from social media influencers. Some social media figures may seize the opportunity to increase engagement in terms of likes, comments and new followers.
Mental health awareness is a topic that has become almost trendy to talk about and such influencers have become go-to talking heads with the topic as opposed to mental health professionals.
Whilst you do not need to be an expert to discuss health and while yes, the awareness is positive, I think we need a more balanced and regulated approach in discussing a topic that is sensitive and susceptible to being interpreted literally. For example, a person is feeling down in themselves and the advice given is to have a bath and a cup of tea.
An individual may take the advice literally however afterwards, once the cup is empty and bath is drained the person feels an exhaustible amount of guilt because the ‘tip’ didn’t pay off from a mental health standpoint.
On the other hand, we are also now seeing this new powerful softened narrative filtering into the mental health profession itself.
The trend has become so strong that mental health professionals are taking on the popular self-care messages and directing them towards patients.
I have seen this develop both personally through my own experience as well as from listening to others with the same experience.
It would be very easy to point blame at such professionals however with the power of social media becoming even more apparent, it could be a method of getting through to the service user, using this new trendy language to build trust.
There needs to be a more traditional approach used where professionals highlight more factual and evidence-based information to service users. We can see with the Covid-19 pandemic, we have no option but to turn to the experts for health advice and I feel it should be the same with mental health as they have the knowledge, expertise and experience in the area.
It is a tough area to negotiate no doubt. On one hand, we have the rise of influencers who are telling their story which some may be of more value, to some, than professional advice - possibly to a younger generation.
On the other hand, we have the professional who has fact-based evidence of what is proven effective however we see the social media messaging spilling over into the profession.
As a starting point, a balanced approach is needed where we welcome and value personal stories told through social media to help reduce stigma but also value the professional advice where, for example, a combination of medication and psychotherapy may be recommended in your care plan to deal with a crisis point.
Whilst mental health awareness is positive, not all awareness is good awareness.
We need to be more selective as to who we follow for advice whether that is an influencer, professional, expert, friend or family member.
Cathal O'Reilly is a mental health author and campaigner. @CathalOReilly17 www.cathaloreilly.ie
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