August 31, 2018

Mental Illness and Social Media

By adrianabobinchock

Adriana Bobinchock will present "Deconstructing Stigma:  Mental Health and Social Media" at the Mayo Clinic Social Media Network 2018 Annual Conference. To learn more from Adriana and other expert speakers, please join us!

When Ana was 18, during her freshman year of college, she attempted suicide. Two days later, she took to Instagram to chronicle her story of depression, pain, fear, and recovery.

Before posting, Ana’s hands shook with fear. Fear of being judged. Fear of being made fun of. Fear of people thinking she was “crazy.” She bravely hit share and immediately turned off her phone.

Hours later, she powered up her phone, expecting the worst. Much to her surprise, she was greeted with hundreds of likes and comments. Then, the most unexpected thing happened—she began receiving direct messages from friends and acquaintances thanking her for sharing and admitting that they too have suffered from mental illness.

From there, Ana became a vocal advocate for mental health awareness, speaking at events, posting regularly about her experiences and treatment on social media, and even running the Boston Marathon to raise funds to support mental health causes.

What makes Ana’s story stand out isn’t that she has a psychiatric disorder—in fact, she’s just one of more than 44 million Americans who will experience a mental illness in any given year. What sets her apart is her willingness to boldly stare down the risk of stigma and shame to openly talk about mental illness.

More than 355 million people live with depression, making it one of the most common disorders in the world. However, despite the prevalence of depression and other psychiatric disorders, shame and stigma are still far too common when it comes to mental health.

Stigma often brings experiences and feelings of shame, blame, hopelessness, distress, misrepresentation in the media, and reluctance to seek and/or accept the necessary help.

In fact, according to a study published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior,

  • 38% of people do not want to move next door to someone who lives with mental illness.
  • 56% do not want to spend an evening socializing with someone with mental illness.
  • 33% do not want to make friends with someone who lives with mental illness.
  • 58% do not want to work closely with someone with mental illness.
  • 68% do not want someone with mental illness to marry into their family.

Stigma is ugly and it's hurtful, but through social media, we have the power to affect a positive change when it comes to mental health stigma. Looking at the example of Ana using Instagram as a tool to break down the invisible barriers raised by stigma, gave her an opportunity not only to express feelings she kept hidden from her friends and family, it also offered a conduit for those in her social network to begin talking more openly about taboo subjects such as suicide.

This is the power of social media.

While mental illness continues to have stigma associated with it, social media is providing opportunities for individuals like Ana to connect with organizations like McLean Hospital and its Deconstructing Stigma international mental health public awareness campaign, to push the pendulum of mental health stigma in a positive direction. There are millions of untold stories that are looking for an eager audience, and it is our duty to help create and develop social platforms that can continue to have a positive impact on the lives of the millions who desperately need hope.

Adriana Bobinchock is the senior director of Public Affairs and Communications for McLean Hospital, the largest psychiatric affiliate of Harvard Medical School. She has worked in healthcare communications for more than 17 years and has a keen interest in educating the public about mental health. In 2016, Bobinchock, along with her colleague Scott O’Brien, spearheaded McLean’s national public awareness campaign Deconstructing Stigma: A Change in Thought Can Change a Life.

Choose a message to share 
Using social media to advocate for mental illness:
Yes, you really can talk about mental illness on social media.
Social media has the power to destroy stigmas and raise awareness.

Tags: Annual Conference, mental health, suicide

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