Mental illness, awareness and slacktivism

The sad news of Chester Bennington’s death has brought suicide and mental illness into the media spotlight once again. Sure, there are the judgmental eejits with the emotional range of a teaspoon who have precisely zero understanding of mental illness, let alone how serious it can be. But it does, undoubtedly, open a conversation among other people too as they seek to understand why and how this could happen, or as they suddenly realise that mental illness is indeed real, and can affect anyone.

There is a third group though, the slacktivists. The ‘hashtag warriors,’ if you will. And that’s who I want to talk about in this post. First up though, let’s hop on over to Merriam Webster for a definition.

Slacktivism

(noun) : activism (such as signing an online petition) that requires very little commitment or action

After any high profile mental health story, my Facebook feed and my Twitter timeline fill with relevant hashtags, and phone numbers for various charities who offer support. Some people think that’s great, and in some cases it is, maybe your status will be the one that encourages a desperate friend to phone the Samaritans, or see their GP. It could, and does, happen. What gets my goat though, is the number of people who share those hashtags & phone numbers, but who stand by while their loved ones struggle, alone, with mental illness.

Changing your Facebook status means nothing if, when your loved one is living with mental illness, you turn the other way.

Your appropriately hashtagged Tweet means nothing if you allow people you know to live through their darkest days alone.

Your appropriately hashtagged Tweet means nothing if you allow people to live through their darkest days alone. Click To Tweet

When did looking like a good person on social media, become more important than being a good person in real life?

Sure, share the hashtags and spread those phone numbers far and wide, but when a friend tells you they’ve just been diagnosed with schizophrenia, don’t shun them. When your brother confides that he’s considered suicide, don’t tell him he’s weak. When your colleague takes time off because of anxiety, don’t moan that you’re having to pick up the slack. When your loved one tells you they have OCD, don’t joke that they can come and clean your place anytime.

Awareness is all well and good, but maybe a hug and a listening ear is better.

Here are some suggestions that might help a loved one who’s struggling, inspired by this The Mighty article:

  • Send a private message, a text, an email to your friend – in my darkest times I am unable to reach out, especially to those who are closest to me. I don’t want to burden you, and I feel that keeping you at a distance will make it easier for you when I die.
  • Snail mail some goodies (bath bombs, joke books, favourite snacks, a DVD/CD) – a care package from a loved one can be a reminder that people love us, and it can also give us permission to look after ourselves when we’re struggling.
  • Pop round for a brew – or at least offer to. Maybe you’re out doing the shopping & just fancy dropping in for a chat on the way home.
  • Virtual Netflix & chill – if you don’t live close by, why not offer to hang out online? You can organise a time to video call or IM, and both pop the same film/TV show on at the same time & watch it together.
  • Send us a mixtape – or a Spotify playlist if you’re not that old! Music is a real help for me, whether I need to hear someone else expressing my emotions through it, or whether I need an upbeat favourite to feel a bit better.
  • Offer practical help – are we struggling to cook/clean/make appointments? Maybe you can make extra when you’re cooking for yourself & bring us a home-made ready meal. Have you got an hour to spare to phone for our doctors appointment, or help us fill in some forms?
  • Include us – y’know what sucks more than having to cancel plans with friends because of mental illness? Not even getting invited! (Some people do prefer to not be invited because of the pressure, or guilt of having to cancel, ask your friend what they would prefer.)
  • Ask us what we need & hear us when we tell you – we are all individuals, and mental illness affects everyone differently. Ask us how you can help, and please don’t offer your miracle cures or tell us we’re not trying hard enough because we’re not doing it the way you think we should.

Maybe next time you jump on the hashtag bandwagon, also use it as a reminder to check in with the people you love.

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