We must stop glamourising and oversimplifying mental health issues on social media – The Irish Times

I can recall too many times when I’ve unlocked my phone and scrolled through platforms such as TikTok only to find dangerous content surrounding mental health. Like many people, I enjoy the app and find it quite addictive when I have a break. Similarly, it is great to see mental health being spoken about and the messages surrounding the importance of looking after yourself being amplified.

In saying that, it is quite disheartening, as someone who deals with the challenges of a mental health issue on a daily basis, to see content that glamourises and simplifies mental health problems. While there is content about mental health that serves an important purpose in educating others, a lot of it encourages people to self-diagnose and affects the overall perception of life with a mental illness.

From videos such as “5 signs you have ADHD” to “Potential signs you have an eating disorder”, creators are making videos like these for virtually every mental health issue. On the outset, it seems like helpful, educational content, but the symptoms shared are often things many people do. Therefore, this results in the health problem in question being simplified and glamourised. What’s more, due to the fact that a lot of the signs/symptoms shared are so common, the impressionable audience is self-diagnosing.

To give an example, the “Potential signs you have an eating disorder” video I refer to shares symptoms such as hiding yourself behind baggy clothing and throwing away half-eaten food. Once again, eating disorders are being made out to be solely about food and body issues. In reality, people who struggle with eating disorders have these issues for a variety of reasons.

While some are to do with food and weight, for some, it is to do with other things. For example, when I dealt with my eating disorder, I did not have issues with my weight; it was more about control and trying to manage something in my life since everything else felt as though it was spiraling out of control. Beyond giving an inaccurate representation of what an eating disorder truly details, the signs shared are things a lot of people do.

Every day, my mind is a cluster of thoughts where I struggle to escape. They go around and around in circles, and I overthink absolutely everything I do and say. All the while, inside my mind, I also continually criticise myself and break myself down

We’ve all been there before where we’ve made/ordered too much food and thrown some away or left it. Additionally, many people like to wear baggy clothing for comfort or style purposes. While it could suggest someone is not 100 per cent confident in their body, lacking body confidence does not mean you have an eating disorder. If I went out on the street and asked 10 people at random if they were body confident, most would probably say no.

Unfortunately, this oversimplification impacts the public perception of eating disorders. For a mental health issue that already receives considerable stigma and misunderstanding, after watching these videos, people only leave feeding into the stereotypes we are trying to move away from. What’s more, the oversimplification and commonality of these signs means a lot of people “can relate” and, therefore, self-diagnose.

You can see it if you look through the comments on these videos; people respond with things like: “I relate to this so much”, “that’s me in a nutshell” and “every time I open this app, I realize I have another mental illness”.

For the occasional person, seeing this type of content could help them realize they have an issue and direct them to get help. However, for the most part, it results in self-diagnosing or unnecessary worry and feeling like there is something wrong with you.

Any doctor or mental health professional will tell you how dangerous it is to self-diagnose physical and mental problems. While I cannot speak much in relation to the ADHD content because I do not deal with it, I have seen numerous anxiety videos too. Some of the symptoms they include are things like zoning out and fidgeting. These are symptoms a lot of people with anxiety will experience. However, just like the eating disorder videos, many people feel nervous on a day-to-day basis and will fidget or struggle with concentrating, so they will zone out.

It is important to note, too, that there are so many different types of anxiety disorders and eating disorders, and none of these “educational” TikTok videos mentions that. They don’t say “5 signs you have social anxiety”; instead, they just write “anxiety”. As mentioned in previous articles I’ve written, mental health issues are being glamourised and a lot of it is down to a lack of distinction between the mood and the disorder. We all feel anxious at certain moments in our life, but not all of us have a diagnosed anxiety disorder.

For people who do have to navigate life with a mental health issue, nothing is more upsetting than witnessing it being oversimplified and made out as though it is not a true struggle. I’ve dealt with numerous mental health issues throughout my life, including generalized anxiety disorder. Every day, my mind is a cluster of thoughts where I struggle to escape. They go around and around in circles, and I overthink absolutely everything I do and say. All the while, inside my mind, I also continually criticsse myself and break myself down.

I’m constantly nervous, shaking, and never truly relaxed for fear that the things I’m thinking will happen. Simple things most people can do like leaving the house to pop to the shop, meeting up with friends for a drink, or going for a walk by myself with my dog ​​are incredibly challenging. Given that everyday duties are so difficult for sufferers, it is very easy to feel quite triggered and misunderstood when you see video content like this that minimises your struggles. Then when people struggling with these issues do decide to reach out to someone, they are met with responses that treat it like it is no big deal.

Mental health should continue to be spoken about on big platforms like social media, but there needs to be some element of quality control. The signs/symptoms kind of content should really be left up to those creators who are mental health professionals and qualified therapists and psychologists. It is best that people looking to engage with this kind of content receive it from a professional or expert in the subject so they can receive appropriate knowledge and guidance. Personal stories and relatable content are absolutely vital in informing people that they are not alone and that it is okay to struggle.

However, the actual logistics of mental health issues should be left up to the professionals. Stories of lived experience should empower people to access help if they are struggling but not encourage audiences to assume their own diagnosis.

Ultimately, there needs to be some responsibility taken as content creators to ensure mental health issues are not being oversimplified and glamourized online. After all, the main aim should be to reveal an accurate representation of life with mental health difficulties to educate others so they know how to help themselves or others suffering.

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