Lately, I’ve been doing a bit of reading as well as following of sections of the mental health community online and it’s struck me that, while it clearly intends well, its approach is about as ridiculous as it’s possible to get.
Mental health stigma is a problem. It’s often cited as causing as much, if not more damage than initial symptoms. The dominant view is that if we can improve the public’s perception of people with diagnoses through the mainstream media we ought to increase understanding and empathy. A problem with this approach, even though it’s treated like the be-all and end-all, is that there isn’t much evidence that it achieves much.
An alternative could be to use social media to get people to tell their stories, in the hope that that cuts out the damage that the mainstream media can do with its usual misguided approach to mental health issues. That’d be great, if the mental health community was as enlightened as it makes itself out to be. Something tells me many sections of it aren’t.
If you hold the dominant view of mental health, chances are you believe in a genetic cause for mental illness. So, while we’re telling people how great those with a diagnosis are, we’re also telling them that the diagnosed are born faulty and that they’ll never be cured. That there’s apparently no solid evidence to back up such an idea and you’ve got a situation where many sections of the mental health community are promoting stigma and ignorance thinking that they’re going to overcome stigma and ignorance. I could be wrong, but that doesn’t sound right and neither using the mainstream media or social media will change that. It’s possible that the success of this ‘enlightening’ strategy could do far more harm than good.
Applying social media to mental health can’t possibly be merely about how to use tools to improve support. It needs to address the aetiology of mental health and understand the implications of whatever conclusions it draws.