Social Media, Stigma, Shame, and Mental Health Advocacy
By Julia Foley

People use social media for all kinds of different things. We advertise a business, sell a product, stay in touch with friends and relatives, or simply post cute photos of our dogs. The point is, everyone uses social media differently.

For me, I use my social media accounts as a platform to advocate for mental illness, crush the stigma surrounding mental illness, and to express the struggles I deal with on a daily basis. It has been significantly impactful for me, and for others who follow my accounts, as well.

I Posted and the Response Was Negative

The other night, I had posted a quote to my Instagram page, that basically stated that living with depression and anxiety is not a choice, and people cannot just snap out of it by thinking positively. I captioned the quote by saying that it the job of those of us that struggle with mental health issues, to educate those who do not understand.

I ended it with the hashtag “stop the stigma.”

For some reason, the quote and my caption didn’t sit well with my stepmom. She texted me saying, “I wish you would fight through it instead of posting and obsessing over it all the time.”

The Core of All Stigma

When I read that text, anger instantly coursed throughout my entire body. How dare she say I’m obsessed with my illnesses! Who does she think she is! She has no idea how much I struggle every single day!

I was fuming.

But after a few moments of being so mad at her insensitive comment, I realized that beneath the anger was shame, the core of all stigma.

There Is Nothing Wrong With Expressing My Thoughts

I realized that her comment is the reason why I post so much about psychology, trauma and mental illnesses.

1in4 mental health anthology

Honestly, to her it may sound like an obsession, but these illnesses affect me every single day. Yes, I might be a little fixated on learning about them, and sharing what I know, and even expressing when I’m feeling a little down. However, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

Her comment, in my opinion, felt like she would rather have me stay silent than speak about real life problems.

Too Often, People Depict Their Lives on Social Media as Stress-Free and Always Positive

Another reason why I post what I post is that life isn’t always sunshine and rainbows. It can be dark, scary and ugly.

I do not intend to succumb to the false and fake-happy lives people in our society portray online. It is important that others know that it’s OK to not have a smile on your face all the time. I want them to know that it is OK to let someone know that you are having trouble. Because of my openness about my life on social media, people, both strangers and old friends, have privately messaged me asking for help. Sometimes they thank me for posting the things that I do, because it helped them to feel less alone.

Never Compromise Your True Thoughts

I have also found that openly sharing my struggles with the world and being transparent about my illnesses has been a huge step in finding my own voice. The sense of liberation I feel, and personal empowerment, come when I am vulnerable on social media.  That has helped me tremendously in my own recovery.

There will always be people who will try to make you feel ashamed, or try to silence you for expressing how you truly feel. However, you should never compromise your true thoughts and feelings simply because someone is uncomfortable with your vulnerability and authenticity.

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