Thursday, July 20, 2017

Social Media and Mental Health

I had my first real taste of social media back in the days of Myspace. I never considered it to be anything of value; I just thought it was something to do for fun. However, it was essentially just a waste of time. In about 2006, when I got my first email invitation to join Facebook, I had no idea that it would be both a blessing and a curse.

So, when I first ventured into the Twitter arena, I was completely lost. I didn’t understand 75% of what I was looking at, and hashtags were just tic-tac-toe boards in my experience. I had no idea what was going on, but I knew that you could see tweets from famous people from time to time, and I found that to be rather fascinating, so I stuck with it.

All these years later, social media has become my preferred method of communication. I enjoy checking my various pages and keeping up with what my friends are doing. There are times when I rely on those people to help keep me sane. Have there been negative experiences? Too many to count. If you’re not face to face, humor or sarcasm can be taken as rude behavior; which can launch you into a war of words with your friends looking on like they’re watching a tennis match.

Even with the pitfalls, if you dig a little deeper, you’ll find a valuable tool that has the potential to catapult you onto the computer screens of hundreds of thousands of people. I won’t lie, when I was new to Twitter and reaching out to others for help with promoting my book, it felt like a clique; and I didn’t belong. I sensed early on that there were mean girls (and guys) that didn’t have any desire to assist you in any way.

However, I was persistent, and I kept posting and eventually started to connect with people. People that today I am proud to call my friends. On the negative side, people are trolling social media searching for a weak spot that they can exploit. I’ve had downright scary interactions with people that made me second guess everything I stood for. But, that’s what the bullies are hoping for, and I refuse to let them win.

The camaraderie felt within the mental health community on Twitter is like nothing I’ve ever seen before. We’re a community - you might say we’re a family. We protect our own, and we lift each other up. I’ve seen it first-hand. Sure, there’s a little competition, but we’re all on the same team and ultimately have the same goal. To finally end the stigma of mental illness.

But, there’s something important that you must remember about social media. If you’re ever in a situation where you’re in so much pain, you’re having thoughts of hurting yourself, don’t go on Twitter looking for help. The worst feeling in the world is pouring your heart out and for whatever reason, nobody answers at that moment. You may not garner the attention you had anticipated, not because you aren’t important, but because we’re all working through our own issues. We’re wrapped up in our lives and our causes, and maybe we just didn’t see your post.

That will only leave you feeling more lost and hopeless. Believe me, I’ve been there. Your best bet is to talk to someone you trust face to face, like family, a friend, a therapist. Take it from me, it makes life a lot easier when you don’t rely on social media to the degree that it becomes life or death. Always remember, everyone if fighting their own battle every single day. Perhaps they’re just not stable enough themselves to offer you encouragement or advice. We’re all doing the best we can with what we have to work with.

That being said, don’t be afraid to tweet about your feelings, or a great movie you saw, or something exciting you have planned for the weekend. If you’ve selected the right group of friends, they will be there for you and both Twitter and Facebook will have their own rewards. Just try to keep in mind that you need to disconnect now and then. Don’t have your phone out at dinner, at the movies, in the car on the way to the movies. It’s not only obsessive, but it’s downright annoying.

Connecting with like-minded people has its benefits. I can’t say enough about it. Of course, you’re going to run into people who are nothing like you and some may be quite menacing. That’s what the lovely little feature called BLOCK is for, and thank God for that! Social media has the potential to be a fun and interesting experience if you learn the protocol first and try hard not to take anything personally. If someone has an issue with you, that’s their problem, not yours.