Monday 27 October 2014

The Relationship Between The Blogosphere & Mental Health: We Need To Talk.

Here's a little true story for you.

When I was a kid, I was never afraid of spiders. I didn't get it. Everyone would always freak out about them but I never understood why. To me, there was nothing to be afraid of, they were tiny, infrequently seen and essentially harmless. But everyone I knew, loathed them. After so long watching my sister, mum and friends screaming when they saw a spider, I found myself jumping up when I saw one scuttling my way. Because unbeknownst to me, these people who I trusted, respected and loved were more influential than I could imagine. Then I began screaming too. It soon developed into a genuine, debilitating phobia, and to this day I have a crippling fear of the bastards. 

And when you look at that, it's kind of scary in itself.

The blogging world is rife with talk of mental illness right now. As someone who has suffered and also spoken openly about my experiences, it's quite comforting thing to see how people have dealt with and overcome this, and how some people have been leading examples of how it really does get better.

But on the other hand, it worries me deeply.

As bloggers, we are sometimes not even aware of the impact our words can have, just how deep our levels of influence run, and how our greatest intentions can be misconstrued. 

It is an undeniable fact that the blogopshere has grown to a point where the fashion industry now evolves in accordance with what is popular among bloggers. Its true, you see it on instagram weeks before you see it on the high street. 

So when something becomes more prevalent in the blogosphere, retailers take note.

And the absolutely horrifying thing I have begun to notice, is how retailers, even the most trusted ones we respect and love, have suddenly began to regard suffering from mental illness as the latest fashion trend.

From Urban Outfitters appalling 'DEPRESSION' and 'Eat Less' t-shirts, to Joy's 'Don't get mad, take Lithium' greetings card and subsequent mockery of people suffering with Bi-Polar disorder on Twitter, to as recent as ASOS' 'I can't keep calm, I have an anxiety disorder' throw cushions, what the hell kind of message is this sending to genuine sufferers? Your condition is a joke? Or even to those who do not suffer, casting an all together hilarious, piss-taking light on the serious issue of mental health or even worse...

'You're not cool unless you have mental problems?'

This sudden influx worries me greatly, and is poisoning what I do truly believe are honest and ground-breakingly positive moves of bloggers, into something incredibly dangerous to vulnerable, young people.

I feel I must make it pertinently clear here, that I am not saying it is bloggers' fault. I'm very confident that these posts have no ulterior motives and serve as nothing more than cathartic, self-reflexive musings with the aim to hopefully inspire others to get help or to understand. There is no way on Earth I'm saying we should not write about these kinds of things - they are ultimately beautiful, enlightening and positive things.

But it is the fundamental understanding of a blogger that we HAVE to consider the effect our words can have. We HAVE to be wary of every possible consequence behind every word we write, and I think sometimes we can get caught up, prone to just assuming our words are read in a certain way as we intended. 

...But then again, we have the right to discuss whatever we wish on our blogs, and mental health issues are often best when talked about to remove the stigma around them. But with what retailers seem to be thinking is acceptable and the prevalence of these posts everywhere... I'm not going to lie and say it doesn't concern me.

This is a double-edged sword and an incredibly sensitive issue to discuss, and again I feel the need to clarify my purpose here. I'm not saying its irresponsible to talk about negative things. That's the straight up opposite of what I believe. But I want to create open, honest, attack-less grounds for debate upon this subject, because I for one am not going to be afraid to stand up and say that I'm genuinely concerned that over-exposure on this topic is unintentionally having the opposite effect.

Let me explain my reasoning.

Just for one moment, I urge you to consider this scenario:

For this case, because I do not believe it is the fault of any blogger or I do not want to cast aspersions about anyone in particular, let's use the example of a fictional blogger called 'Misty-Anna'.

Swathes of young people in their millions idolise her. Hundreds of thousands of young girls, and boys too, log on every single day to see what she has to say, to feel as though the are a part of her life. 

They love her, because they relate to her, because she speaks a part of them. She talks about things they are already experiencing and tells them it's okay to feel that way, that it does get better. She is not a fictional character in a book or a film. She is real. She is the real life Disney Princess that these people look up to.

These people find comfort in her ways, in her life. They find a common topic amongst themselves, a topic of conversation that they understand, exclusively. They feel included, involved. And so, like with any role model to a young person, whether consciously or subconsciously, they begin to emulate her.  

They follow everything she does, listen to bands she likes, watch movies she likes as if her word is god. Any recommendation of hers becomes commandment, and they begin to dress like her, follow her tutorials about how she does her hair and makeup so they can look like her too.

They go about their daily lives and think 'What would Misty-Anna do?' 'What would Misty-Anna say?' 

And they even begin to base their own characters and personalities upon what they so idolise about her. But that's normal, that's what kids do.

Then she talks about her struggles with mental health. Depression. Anxiety. She has every right to and it's an incredibly brave move. She becomes the strong figurehead, a hero to the people who have suffered in silence, allowing them the relief of coming forward and enabling them to realise that it does get better.

But suddenly this one young girl doesn't understand. She's never felt the things her idol is talking about, the things that so many other people seem to understand, and are praising their idol for talking about.

She reads how her idol describes in detail the struggles she has faced and how she'd react in certain situations, but that seems alien to her. She's never thought of the world like that before.

She watches as so many other people just like her find it relatable and helpful, and she asks herself 'Why don't I get it? Why don't I understand?' - She seems to be the only one who doesn't. 

It suddenly dawns on her that this is one thing she doesn't have in common with her idol. This wasn't like buying the same makeup brushes or wearing her hair tied the same way, this was something impossible to resolve. Yet everyone around her seemed to understand. All of her friends bond over how Misty-Anna's experiences speak to them, but she can't join in. 

She goes to the shops and sees cards, t-shirts, cushions, emblazoned with those phrases, those words and terms that have been spoken by her idol and her friends, but that she doesn't understand. 

She becomes a pariah.

But she begins to learn what they mean, and the price of what it means to understand.

And the next time a situation arises, a situation to which she'd normally be able to handle - she doesn't consciously want to suffer, she doesn't want to have problems - but a little subconscious voice inside her head recognises that this is the kind of situation that Misty-Anna would panic in. The kind that her friends and all those others would freak out about.

And that voice says,

'...What would Misty-Anna think?'

She knows what Misty-Anna would think, she knows what Misty-Anna would do, because she's written in detail about what she thought and how it felt. And so the girl begins to wander about it too. She shifts her perspective of the situation to what her idol would think, to see what it feels like. She begins to think those thoughts which were so troubling but were so inclusive, and made everyone that much closer to their idol than she could be without thinking them, and she begins to fall.

Suddenly all she can do is attribute those thoughts to those situations, and she revisits those Misty-Anna blogs and she gets it now, she understands it so much, just like all the others before her who could relate.

And now she's a part of the conversation. She can join in and understand what her friends are talking about when they discuss it. She feels closer to her idol. She feels more grown up, mature, because isn't Misty-Anna?

But she does not realise the horrifying way her own mind has become manipulated.

And when she sits in front of her mother with silent tears streaking down her face as she shakes in genuine crippling terror at the thought of having to leave the house, her Mother looks down at her Daughter in dismay with her hands agrip of her shoulders and whispers,

"What happened to you, my darling?"

And as the girl remains silent, that little subconscious voice inside her head whispers,

"Now I'm just like Misty-Anna."


The blogosphere is expanding to a point of arguably becoming out of control. 

Day by day, regular people - not writers or journalists with years of media training, presenters who've studied the art of public relations, not mental health professionals trained to help people - are becoming famous. Becoming idols. Becoming role models to hundreds of thousands of young people by just speaking openly about themselves and posting whatever they want. And despite this mostly being a positive thing, this combination of lack of guidance/training behind what they're doing paired with their astonishing levels of influence, worries the shit out of me.

I'm not saying I think this is exactly what happens when bloggers post about things like this, but with retailers making a mockery or a fashion trend out of the sincerity of bloggers honest intentions, I'm saying it very much concerns me that the above example is fast becoming a possibility of what could happen. 

And so I don't really know what my over-arching statement here, but I'd henceforth open up the floor to public speculation. I am going to thrust open the doors on an incredibly controversial topic, and welcome all opinions to have an informed debate about this.

Does this worry you too? Do you think the overall relationship between the blogosphere and mental issues is a positive one? Or do you think it is treading a fine line that is is possibly becoming a detriment?

I'd be very, very curious to hear your honest points of view below.