Help not Hashtags

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Here in Canada, it’s a day for the promotion of mental health issues centred around a large corporation. For every social media hashtag mention that includes the corporation’s name, they donate 5 cents to mental health facilities. This is a battle of sorts with social media users every year: the argument that “hey, every cent helps, doesn’t matter how it gets there” vs those that say “nope, we don’t have to promote companies and help them maintain an image as being only for the good of consumers.” Kinda makes it hard to turn around and sign petitions to get them to back down from some of their price increases for the very internet that will drive that social media. And for those of us who have pointed out the fallacy of the pink ribbon campaigns and the amount of money that companies make using the imagery, it’s particularly discouraging to see yet another version.
 
It *is* hard to talk about mental health issues. It is hard to access mental health care. Even those of us who are very aware of the issues can find it overwhelming. Even in a country with universal healthcare, it can be difficult and it can still cost money. It can cost a lot of money. But the joy and stress of social media is that one can ask a question of one’s audience without specifying that it’s for you. You can ask if anyone knows of an issue, if anyone knows of resources. You can look for a community where you can be welcomed and feel safe to discuss those issues.
 
I have talked a lot about issues I have, issues that my kids have… I’ve had a lot of admonishment from some who are convinced that this will all backfire and ruin me for life in some way (all those after-school specials about the dangers of social media!). I have also received a lot of private messages from people who say, “Thank you. I have the same issues and I can’t talk about them in public but it helps to read the conversations that happen when you mention something. It’s good to know I”m not alone.”
 
Wanna use social media for your mental health issues? Facebook is full of secret groups that discuss mental health or medical issues, or support groups for those dealing with difficult stages of life, or more… There may be people on your friends’ list or people reading your Twitter who can direct you to services in your area.
 
One of my kids spent years living with discomfort and misery because she didn’t understand what she felt was wrong with her and didn’t know how to even articulate that to her family. Through the internet, she found a blog about someone else’s realization that they are trans and my daughter identified with everything she read. From that she was able to find an online community of support and advice while she got the emotional strength to come out to her friends and family. Through social media I was able to find online groups to discuss issues, to find resources and to find a real-life support group. All without a hashtag.
 
At the very least: social media is social. For all those who love to trumpet that “the online world is not the real world!!”, social media is peopled with real live human beings. For many with social anxiety, with issues that make face-to-face interactions difficult, with fear of personal conversations, social media can be a literal life-saver. It is possible to find a community of people who discuss the things you’re interested in talking about. It is possible to find people who have been through the issues you are experiencing and can tell you of their own path.
 
You can start with something as small as simply posting a photo of a dog and asking, “Isn’t he cute?” Enjoying the smallest of human interaction, even through the interface of social media, is not wrong, is not a failure, is not a cop-out. It’s a start. It’s a digital footprint out into the world.
 
Reach out. Talk to someone. Hashtag or don’t hashtag. Put yourself first.
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