In 2023, anxiety and depression are no longer dirty words – but somewhere along the way, have they become too squeaky clean?
The increase in awareness
Awareness of mental health and how it affects us has improved in leaps and bounds over the past few years, largely due to campaigns like Mental Health Awareness Month, Time to Talk Day, Movember, and Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM).
With 1 in 6 people in the UK having some kind of mental health issue, openness is more important than ever – and social media suggests we’re doing a fine job in helping that conversation move on.
It’s clear this kind of content helps a lot of people. It wouldn’t be so damn popular if it didn’t. But it can also make people who already feel less than perfect feel worse.
Palatable mental health?
Speaking out about mental health comes with a huge caveat. It has to remain palatable, it seems. Any mention of mental health has to be easy for people to swallow, leaving no unpleasant aftertaste. You could show symptoms of mental illness, sure. But they have to be the right symptoms – ones that don’t get in anyone’s way, disrupt the status quo, or have any kind of impact on the way people want to see you.
We’re told that everyone is a little anxious and depressed these days, and if you end up disclosing mental health struggles, you’ll likely be met with support. But what we’re never told is just how conditional that support is.
Telling someone you’re feeling anxious one day won’t change the way they see you. And it likely won’t affect them the next day, or the day after that, either. But if it gets to the hundredth day and you’re still anxious, despite all the reassurance they’ve given otherwise, they become frustrated. Why don’t you just get over it? What do you mean you still don’t feel better?
And that is often just the tip of the iceberg — the things which you choose to share. As encouraged as we are to open up, it becomes apparent quickly that they only want the door ajar.
There is clear evidence through comments on social media posts that, despite saying otherwise, a lot of people don’t want to hear the weirder parts of mental health — like how it stops people from brushing their teeth, tidying their homes, avoiding the shower or having socially taboo intrusive thoughts.
But nothing confirmed that more than seeing TikToks and tweets shaming the symptoms of the very same mental illnesses we claim to advocate for. Day after day, I see posts about showering, brushing teeth, unwashed dishes, and the state of depression rooms go viral for all the wrong reasons.
The general consensus among commenters, quote-tweeters, re-posters, and the like is that the people who live like this are “disgusting” and that they should be an object of ridicule and derision rather than support. But what critics like that fail to see is how this neglect towards those individuals and their surroundings isn’t something that they do by choice — and isn’t something they can necessarily help.
When people get into that cycle of paralyzing anxiety and self-loathing, they simply don’t value themselves enough to do these basic things. It’s easy to call people lazy — especially if they sleep all day and live in mess on top of a mess — but as the shame surrounding their lifestyle worsens and is only reinforced by comments of disgust on social media, they become more susceptible to falling deeper and deeper into that cycle.
They might start off feeling disgusting and worthless and end up neglecting themselves. This will go on for a while until one day, they read comments online where those in similar situations to themselves called disgusting and worthless, only further feeding into the spiral of sadness and shame which led to them neglecting themselves in the first place.
The saddest part is a lot of these admissions and videos find their way on the internet because that person themselves has chosen to be open. They made the critical mistake of thinking that when society encourages us to talk about mental health, that means they can actually talk about it.
So, these posters explain the sense of pride they have for brushing their teeth for the first time in months, talk about the socially taboo intrusive thoughts that plague their mind; or agree to be filmed after plucking up enough courage to seek help for their matted hair or trash-filled house.
And all they get in return is exactly what they feared, with the support that they were promised coming few and far between the onslaught of disgust and shaming for the way their mental illnesses affect their lives.
Sharing is caring?
But the cycle of shame will never end if we don’t break it, and at least if we normalize the latter a little, then that’s at least a start. Things might be a bit grim sometimes, but that’s okay. Everyone is just trying their best.
What are your thoughts on the contents of this article? Let us know in the comments.