Despite being younger than the average 8th grader, social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have completely altered how the world functions. Businesses no longer need to pay large sums of money for a TV commercial; they can simply make a video and post it to YouTube for free. Long-distance friends don’t have to pay hundreds of dollars to travel and see each other, instead they can download Skype.
While some may argue that this shift towards technological communication is destroying traditional, face to face communication, social media has a lot of potential to change the world in a way not previously possible. We are no longer limited by small scale communication such as telephones or newspapers. Instead, social media gives individuals the ability to communicate with anyone across the globe. When talking about mental health, social media can be the key to ending stigma and bringing about global acceptance.
Whether it be a musician, politician, athlete or your dad, everyone has someone that they idolize. We listen to every song they release, watch every one of their speeches, or tune into every game. Before the creation of social media, that was the most we could do to follow them. However, social media, Twitter especially, has allowed us to get a better understanding of our idols and their lives. Icons constantly post to social media, keeping their followers updated about what’s happening with their family, their friends and themselves.
That last fact, icons posting about themselves, has been key in reducing the stigma around mental health. Many celebrities have vented to social media talking about their mental health issues. Recently, actress Kristen Bell and actor Wentworth Miller have posted to social media about their issues with anxiety and depression. When their followers see them talking about these issues, it brings awareness that mental illness can impact anyone, even celebrities.
Building A Movement
Social media can also spread these stories quickly through the use of sharing and retweeting, only increasing their reach. It should come as no surprise that the most effective way to start a movement today is through social media.
Recent movements such as Black Lives Matter, campaigning against violence toward African-Americans, and the Ice Bucket Challenge to raise money for ALS, were built almost solely on social media. Mental health initiatives are definitely not an exception to this. On May 13th 2016 the Centre for Addition and Mental Health in Toronto ran a movement called One Brave Night. Participants stayed up all night and fundraise for mental health research. When the sun came up, participants posted selfies with the hashtag #sunriseselfies to social media in support of those living with mental illness. Since One Brave Night used #sunriseselfies, support for the cause can easily be seen just by searching the hashtag. Having participants post to social media also gave the movement massive amounts of exposure, since each post reached out to hundreds of people. Movements like these have become both extremely popular and effective.
The Power of Connecting People
In the past, the missing link in reducing the stigma around mental illness was a way to reach out to as many people as possible, and talk about relatable topics. Social media fulfills both of these needs exceptionally. Not only is it able to connect individuals in a way not possible before, but the amount of people that it can connect is far greater than anything previously possible. Social media could very well be the key to reducing stigma.