Social media sparks mental crisis

River Tippetts

When I was 11 my mom tried to kill herself, unbeknownst to me, it was the second time she’d tried. My sister suffers from anxiety, depression and has ADHD, my own struggles have been with chronic insomnia, generalized anxiety disorder, major clinical depression and ADHD. All of these disorders have been diagnosed by qualified psychiatrists. I don’t mean to bring this up to inspire you to pity me,  rather I want to emphasize that I have a lot of personal experience with what I’m talking about.

You might, then, be able to imagine my frustration when surrounded by a culture that has decided to glorify the fight that I would do near anything to escape. The eruption of stories like “Thirteen Reasons Why” into popular culture threw my own experiences with abuse or depression into question when I tried to recount them to my peers. Being “depressed” became akin to being part of a club, like a rite of passage to be considered “cool.” But it wasn’t cool to actually be depressed. To my peers being depressed wasn’t dirty clothes and a messy room and poor hygiene and avoiding friends and forgetting homework and laying in bed for hours without moving. It was an aesthetic, being sad, black clothes, messy hair, but all still cultivated to be pleasing to the eye, to fall within social standards while masquerading as something else.

To the people that surrounded me, depression was a look, a vibe, again- an aesthetic. But that’s not what it is, it’s the struggle of just being every single day.

Then COVID hit, and like everything else, things got worse.

Feeling anxious during a life-changing event is normal. Lacking motivation when feeling confined to your home is pretty universal, being sad about the feeling that the world is collapsing against you is, largely, to be expected. These things, that people have decided mean that they’re depressed, are mostly normal reactions to stress and yet instead, as we exit the COVID-19 era, have left a massive and/or vocal population with this concept that they suffer from this “depression.”

One of the arguments against labeling illnesses in psychology is that if a person believes they suffer from something they’ll start to exhibit more symptoms of it. This can then lead to a vicious cycle where their theories are “confirmed” which leads to them developing more symptoms because they’re more certain of their diagnosis, or more popularly these days, their self-diagnosis. This then leads to the question of would these people, if not for the cultural movement of “embracing” depression and anxiety, have suffered from any long-lasting symptoms at all? I posit that many wouldn’t.

The problem, to quote one of my favorite teachers, is social media. Anorexia and other eating disorders weren’t a big issue in China for years, but over the past decade the prevalence of those disorders is five times greater.  Some of the cause of this has been attributed to social media filters and “events” such as the “skinny enough challenge,” where individuals posted themselves trying to fit into children’s clothes. However, the prevailing theory is that the disorders might have migrated from western culture to the east through the DSM 5 or the internet. Mental illness spreading virally, largely, through the internet.
While it’s great that people are talking more about mental illness generally, it runs the risk of perpetuating struggles with depression and anxiety. With all the “mental health help” on the internet there’s so much information that’s incorrect, and it’s easy to fall into an echo chamber where you can convince yourself you’re suffering from something when maybe you aren’t. Beyond making your own life worse because of this “faux illness” it detracts from the experiences of people who actively struggle with their mental health. Talking about mental health is good, but glorifying it is really horrible for everyone involved and it needs to stop. 

In sum. Get help, not Tik Tok.