Because the internet is my happy place (not really, but I’m online a lot), I see a lot of what becomes popular as soon as it becomes popular. I don’t follow trends or imitate them, but I do observe and one thing I observe from the Pop-Mental-Health culture, as I call it, is the individuals who become Insta-famous or YouTube famous for expressing views about mental health.
I click on these advocates with a new hope. And every time I’m disappointed.
The thing about being a pop-advocate is that everything you say is really heard. And when you’re really heard and you say something controversial, you may lose your following and For some of these advocates, an online presence is their lively-hood.
I don’t think anyone advocates for the money–what money? You don’t get money for being positive about mental health. You may if you’re on YouTube with a couple million followers, but how many mental health advocates are there with that status? I do think this gives people purpose though, and combined with the drive to offer support and the hope of wellness to others, it becomes their livelihood.
What makes this an issue though, is if you’re a YouTuber with an okay following, your channel can blow up if you talk for ten minutes about how transparent you want to be with your audience and spill your mental health secrets.
It reminds me of Dave Chappelle’s recent acceptance speech when he won the Mark Twain award. Toward the end, he said something like “And one more thing–I’d like to say that I’m gay. Can’t wait to see what that does for my career here now.”
We almost fetishize this idea of being different. It’s become “a thing” now. The day we truly accept everyone is the day someone doesn’t need to come out and say they’re gay or bi or trans or anything on the spectrum. The day we truly accept everyone is the day we don’t have to feel the need to “film our panic attacks” or us talking to our hallucinations.
In the meantime, our greatest advocates have become a lot of professionals. Which is great–we need professionals. But they’re starting blogs and YouTube channels and talking about what’s good for us. As if they know.
I rarely see a primary source on their social media or their channels or their blogs. A primary source would be a mental health consumer.
I’m not against anyone advocating. In fact, I welcome everyone to stand up and say something about mental health. But to purport that you know what we need just because you have a family member who has struggled, or just because you spent 3,000 hours getting your license (for California), doesn’t make sense. You have no idea what we need.
You can ask us what we need. You can advocate for us by spreading the word that we are individuals who deserve respect and compassion and for the majority of the time are not as helpless as we’re made out to be. You can advocate for research. You can advocate for better understandings of psychosis. You can advocate for women whose anxiety is never taken seriously. You can advocate for men whose depression is never talked about. You can share your own experience. But don’t generalize any of that into “this is how to help someone.” Because you have no idea what’s helped.
Maybe medication has calmed your son down. Great! So you advocate for medication without understanding what that means. Maybe your daughter getting off medication has saved her life. Great! So you spread the word that medication is poison without understanding what that means.
So, let’s talk about what advocacy has turned into lately. I’ll list some things, and we’ll discuss the pros and cons.
What I’ve noticed is that advocacy has turned into two things:
From professionals, we get:
- Mental illness.
- They’re ill
- Mental illness doesn’t make you weak
- But you’re sick
- Don’t get mad at them. It’s because they’re sick.
- Anxiety this
- Depression that
- Anxiety this
- Depression that
- Oh, and there’s a bunch of severe ones we don’t advocate for. Because those people are REALLY sick and less common.
From the Pop-advocate world of professionals, Insta-influencers, Tweeters, Facebookers, and whoever else, we get:
- Today is another day. Let’s make it a good day.
- You can choose happiness.
- Here’s a video of me having a -Insert Mental Health Experience-. I just wanted to be transparent #mentalhealth #advocacy; followed by comments of “Omg this is exactly what happens to me, thank you for sharing.”
- You are not alone.
- We need to end stigma.
- Let’s end stigma by talking about how different we are and also saying we need to be treated like everyone else.
- Anxiety sucks, but you’re not alone.
- I’m not my illness.
The good things about this is that at least there is conversation. Something is started. We have realized that a lot of people deal with anxiety and depression and this can help prevent suicide. We are making an attempt to remind people that pain can be temporary and that a lot of us struggle in the same ways–we’re relating to each other. That’s wonderful.
The bad thing? We’re still tied to this idea that we’re sick. We’re also tied to this idea that other people know what’s best for us. In some cases, this can be true. If you think someone has implanted a microchip in your head and you want to dig it out of your brain, someone stopping you is probably your best bet. But in terms of your care, your treatment, and how you want to live your life? No one knows that for you.
We also negate a lot of topics. We negate the trauma that hospitals cause and ride it off as “I needed to be there”. Perhaps you did. But that doesn’t mean coercion and force is the way to help you get better. We negate research that contradicts a lot of what’s being spread about mental health and these things we label as disorders. For example, the DSM 5 was many years late. Why?
Personality disorders. The only disorder that has been RELIABLY diagnosed (doesn’t mean it’s proven as a disorder of the mind) is Borderline Personality. It doesn’t really have any research backing as a disorder. The experiences are very real. But it’s speculated that has a lot to do with whatever trauma that person was put through, and those experiences being a result of the brain having to learn to process all of it.
The rest of the personality disorders? They’re rarely diagnosed reliably and there is no evidence backing them. And so the committee of old, bald, white men struggled in what to do about this for the DSM 5. In the end, nothing was really done. Subcategories and Axis diagnostic criteria were removed.
But does anyone hear about this? No. No one who needs to, at least. I cite my research professor as my secondary source of information. Could he be wrong? Possibly. But if he’s not, think about what that means.
I think it’s wonderful people want to share their stories. I share mine too. But advocacy is so much more than cheesy positive tweets, some random LCSW on YouTube talking about ways to help someone who is struggling, or people who think it’s cool to video tape their crisis or everyday struggle.
Advocacy is supposed to be about information and support. It’s supposed to be about relating to each other while also showing the general public that not everything they believe is accurate. Advocacy is supposed to also be about lifting each other up, and yet we’re divided in the mental health community right now.
I’ve been questioned on Instagram many times by those who consider themselves anti-psychiatry. I have an article on Mad In America called “A System Built On Fear”. I have labeled myself as anti-psychiatry in the past. I’ve shed all my labels now. I have no faith in the medical model and no faith in anti-psychiatry because neither relies on research or truth or science. Both have sprinkles of it here and there. But the medical model relies on the gullibility of the general public, and Anti-psychiatry relies on personal horror stories.
Both are valid. Neither are helping.
So who advocates for us? Right now, I get the sense it’s mostly professionals and family members. I hear our voices in there too, but they’re drowned out by false perceptions, media distorting research, and labels. They’re being distorted by pop-advocates who are really only catering to the medical model, and extremists only catering to anti-psychiatry.
Where do we go from here?
What do you think? Who advocates for you? How does it feel when you tell your story?
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