These days it feels like there are so many things to become a champion for – climate change, gun control, human rights and women’s rights, just to name a few. While activism is nothing new to our society (people have been standing up for their beliefs long before the modern day yard sign), what is new in the last decade or so, is social media activism.
You most likely already have an account on Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat, you probably even have an account on one of the other five types of social media platforms like Pinterest, Digg, Tumblr or even Kickstarter. And what do all of these have in common? They all connect people from around the globe and provide space for commentary.
Just like in real life social situations, social media threads can be supportive and stressful. Remember the 2014 ice bucket challenge? Over 17 million people participated to raise awareness for ALS and the ALS Association raised over $115 million dollars that summer alone! Demonstrating just how supportive our virtual communities can be!
Of course there’s a flip side. Cyberbullying, trolls, cyberstalking, impersonating, denigration, flaming, all of these terms can be used to describe social behavior online today. In fact if you use Facebook with any regularity you’ve probably already blocked someone or witnessed trolling.
With access to virtual soap boxes so readily available, it’s time we talk about the need for mental health champions in our virtual worlds!
Being an online “mental health champion” means you support wellness for mental health, promote mental health education and fight mental health stigma. Sounds easy right? Here are three ways to get started:
BE IN THE KNOW
Before you start to be a champion for anything, you need to be in the know. Take some time to learn more about mental health by visiting trusted websites, reading books and following mental health groups online. Understanding the hows, whys and whats of different diagnoses can help you promote fact based info online. Because “anxiety” isn’t the same for everyone, depression isn’t always about difficulty getting out of bed and OCD isn’t just for neat freaks. You can also talk with friends and family who have experienced mental health issues, listen to them with an open mind and learn more about their experience.
You may not agree with everyone online, but doing your best to be kind and respectful can go a long way.
Be kind and respectful online, even to haters. It shows that you’re in control of your emotions and that you aren’t letting negativity bring you down.Of course it’s ok to feel your feelings, but bear in mind that trolling isn’t the best outlet to resolve difficult emotions. In fact talking to friends or family will most likely help you feel better overall, and help you process how you’re feeling.If you see someone online who is having difficulty with a troll or hate speech, you can send them a message of support and offer to help them block, de-friend or get away from the unnecessary negativity. It’s also important to remember that “criticism can be a sign of pain. People sometimes lash out because they have other life struggles. Negative comments may have nothing to do with you.” (stopcyberbullying.gov).
The more we make mental health an open topic of discussion, the better we can support the well-being of our partners, friends and family.
Sending words of support to someone who seems to be struggling can be a turning point in their mental wellness. There are many ways you can reach out and be supportive both directly and indirectly. Here are a few:
Show your support for mental health groups online by liking, sharing and commenting on their posts. Share the info you’ve learned with friends, family and your online community. Offer referrals to individuals in need. (Suicidepreventionlifeline.org, nami.org, mhanational.org, text “WORDS to 741741 for a Crisis Counselor for free 24/7 anywhere in the US).Share your story with your community and help fight mental health stigma. Join a group like Mental Health Champions and get action oriented texts/emails to help promote mental health!
With mental health issues affecting 1 in 5 adults every year you probably already know someone you could be a champion for. In fact, you might be a champion for yourself! By following these steps, you can help decrease stigma, encourage people to get help and normalize the experience of mental health, all from the comfort of your phone/laptop/computer.
So remember, BE IN THE KNOW, BE KIND, BE SUPPORTIVE.