Mental Health Awareness Week: Depression, Misconception and the impact of Social Media

Many people have a preconceived idea of what depression looks like and how to spot it. They may imagine someone introverted, jittery, visibly emotional, tired looking, noticeable weight change or have let themselves go physically. You don’t think of a young, attractive, well dressed, extroverted character with friends and family around them, the world at their feet. You don’t imagine someone like Mike Thalassitis, the handsome Love Island star who committed suicide earlier this year. This news shocked and devastated the nation and whilst there is no good to come of such a tragic loss of life, at the very least we can use it as a wake up call to help save others. In honesty, I used to think mental health issues such as depression and anxiety were circumstantial. I could understand someone being depressed after the loss of a loved one or being being anxious after a traumatic event, however I couldn’t understand how people with seemingly a perfect life, could be depressed. I used to think what have they got to be depressed about? Why can’t they just get on with it and stop feeling sorry for themselves? Now I know how wrong I was. However, I know there is still a huge number of people that have this view on the subject.

Depression can feel like you’re at the bottom of a deep, dark hole and you can’t see any light. You start crying and the tears won’t stop, you feel useless, you don’t find enjoyment in the things you used to. The days are long and the nights even longer, you feel angry or alone and you feel guilty for feeling this way because you should feel fortunate for what you do have. The worst part about it is when you’re feeling like that, you often push people away. You may be distant, disengaged, short tempered or snappy, cancel plans at the last minute or forget to reply to messages. People might know how to spot the obvious signs but the majority of people suffering from depression go unnoticed. It’s easy to act like everything is completely fine in company for an hour or two and those suffering from bipolar disorder can be the hardest to spot. They are the big characters, the jokers, full of energy and confidence until they get that dip that often no one sees until its got more serious. How do you bring up the conversation with someone that you are feeling low and having dark thoughts?

Often, when you do eventually find the courage to speak to someone about how you’re feeling, they try a relay it in a logical way or search for reasons why. Sometimes there’s reasons, sometimes there isn’t. I know from experience that often people have a very blasé attitude and will tell you to snap out of it or to get some fresh air. One of the only things we don’t choose in life are our emotions and whilst we are the only people to help ourselves, it isn’t always easy to make the first step to change. Men suffering with depression don’t get the support they need because they’re expected to be strong and let’s face it, it still isn’t as socially acceptable for men to have feelings.

From scrolling through social media the past week, I’ve learned a surprising number of people have suffered from depression/anxiety including celebrities. It made me wonder whether this has always been the case and it’s only been in recent years it’s a socially acceptable thing to talk about, or whether more people are suffering now than they were 20 years ago. I guess we’ll never know for certain, however one thing I do know is the impact social media and smart phones has had on this generation. A generation where the smallest physical flaw makes you a left swipe. Whether your teeth aren’t straight enough, you aren’t tall enough, your breasts aren’t big enough or you don’t have biceps. A generation where we feel our desirability and popularity is based on how many likes we receive on a picture or how many people ‘follow’ us, something that in the past would’ve warranted a restraining order. We know when someone hasn’t replied to a message but they’ve liked a picture on Instagram or they’ve been active on Facebook. All these things have become so normal in our lives but in reality it’s not normal. Our exes and our partners exes are available to stalk at the touch of a button and whilst we know we shouldn’t, we are nothing if not creatures of curiosity. Direct comparisons are drawn, insecurities are magnified. We see everyone’s highlights through social media when they’re looking their best, doing something exciting or in nice surroundings. No one ever puts a picture up first thing in the morning when they’re looking dog rough drinking a cup of tea because why would you? We follow celebrities that are in Dubai or the Maldives every other week, wearing swimwear looking like they’ve never eaten a doughnut in their life. It has got to the point where a lot of us feel lost if we were to go out without our smartphone and it’s almost as though we are slaves to them.

I know myself that I’m guilty of some of these. My weekly screen time reports make me feel a bit sick and the photos I post on Instagram aren’t an accurate representation of my life. Recently, I posted a picture of Isabella and I at a fun fair. She was eating an ice cream with it all over her face, the sun was shining and I was smiling. It was a nice moment, however shortly after the picture was taken, chaos erupted. I took £30 out at the cash point on arrival and within an hour it was all gone. Once she’d finished her ice cream, she demanded she wanted to go on more rides. I told her this wasn’t possible and she had a screaming fit on the floor with her whole body stiffened. I had to carry her to the car in this feral state whilst she was trying to gauge my eyes out with her fingernails. Onlookers were tutting and staring suspiciously because surely she couldn’t be my own child. It took ten minutes to get her into her car seat she screamed the whole twenty minute journey home. I shouted at her and felt like crying myself because I was tired from lack of sleep. There wasn’t much fun at the fair at all, a more accurate caption would have been ‘extortion at the fair’ or ‘psychosis at the fair’ but neither of which have the same ring to them.

The point I’m making is things are rarely what they seem. Treat everyone with kindness, no matter how great their life seems to be on the outside. Be understanding of those close to you suffering with mental illness or be an ear to those not close to you. Trust your instincts and if you are really concerned about someone, contact the Samaritans service because they’re unlikely to do it themselves if they’re in that dark a place. Know that if you are experiencing any of this yourself, it’s normal and it’s okay. Things can and will get better.

Love,

Olivia xxx