Mental Health & Oversharing Online

Friday, 11 August 2017

a completely unrelated photo that I took of my little sister a couple weeks ago on a walk (kinda just wanted to add a photo in lol)

The way mental health is portrayed in the mainstream media is something that is very controversial, and something I have a very split opinion over.

Netflix's drama 13 Reasons Why seemed to be where it all started. But recently, Netflix has released another drama named "To The Bone". We'll touch base on this one first.

To The Bone (you can read a synopsis here) first appears to highlight the struggles of those who suffer with eating disorders in a harrowingly realistic way - but on further viewing, it actually does no such thing. It's alarmingly triggering and portrays eating disorders, especially anorexia, in a hugely cliche and crude way - the close ups of bruises on Ellen's back from too many sit ups, the chewing food and spitting it out again, the shot of her naked in the foetal position at the end. It is horribly shallow, and doesn't actually offer any insights into why she suffers in the first place. Even though I've never had any real issues surrounding food, I can imagine that it would be frankly insulting to those who have had real struggles and problems with eating disorders.

13 Reasons Why is slightly different and I think opinion is much more split over it. I have a friend who I asked about it and these were her words:

"To me 13RW was perfect because it was so real. And they did it well, they had trigger warnings, they had help sites. The thing is, you can't stop what people see. It wasn't for sufferers, the guy wrote the book because he wanted to understand what led his niece to attempt suicide. Personally I like it because I think people that don't suffer need to see it without being filtered. I think it's got to be done but for people that don't suffer. And those that do, need the right support. There are people that feel less alone because of it, or people that understand what might have led people they know to take their own lives."

It's a very interesting point about these things being for the people who don't suffer, and also a very interesting point about not being able to control what people see online anyway, as there are much more disturbing (if that's the right word) things out there on the internet that could damage people way more. It's also an extremely subjective thing, you can never predict how people are going to react to things like this so it can be extremely difficult to cater for everyone's needs. On the flipside however, another friend aired these thoughts on it:

"I took a step back when I realised how destructive [Thirteen Reasons Why] was. There are barely any trigger warnings, which for a show about mental health is truly shocking. Also, it portrays what a depressed person acts like in totally the wrong way. It portrays suicide less as a desperate last resort as it is for so many and more as an act of revenge. This worries me because not only many impressionable young teenagers see this as normal and also make them think about taking their own lives as revenge, but also invalidates true suicidal feelings. The show portrays Hannah as an attention seeker which is something that sufferers of mental health issues have been battling with for years. I think media representation of these issues has so far to go, but these experimental stages have the potential to be very damaging to vulnerable people watching, and that's what worries me."

There are some really interesting points raised here as well, and I agree with the way it portrays suicide in an incredibly unhealthy way. The glamorisation and romanticisation of depression and suicide far outweighs the positivity that the show brings in raising awareness. However, something I've learned about the mentally ill "community" (again, if that's the right word) from being part of it online, is that we are never happy. Don't get me wrong, it's not a criticism, rather an observation. If there's a show about mental health then yeah, they're raising awareness but they're doing it wrong. But this is the issue. Netflix have got it so so wrong this time. No, we aren't happy because it's damaging and invalidating and presents suicide as totally opposite to what it is. The idea of the tapes guilt trips the people who listen to them into feeling maybe as, or more desperate than Hannah did. It portrays her suicide as something quite selfish, which isn't something I would ever want to say, but it does.

But going back to the whole "we are never happy thing". The question is, when do we draw a line between raising awareness and oversharing? It's a topic that Dodie and Hazel Hayes recently talked about and it really got me thinking and tied into this whole post idea. Because when do we stop talking about the tough stuff? When does the tough stuff get too much and starts hindering rather than helping? I myself don't share that much anymore. I used to - some OG readers may remember that I used to talk a lot about my own issues with my mental health and the problems I faced, and to some extent I still do, but I realised that it wasn't helping me. It's easy to just type something out when you feel at the lowest of the low, but I never stopped to think about how it may make other people feel or how it makes me look to other people. As someone who is very easily triggered, I didn't watch Thirteen Reasons Why for a long time (only just beginning while writing this post), because I knew that it may prompt me to share more than I should do, and, as I'm now recovering pretty well, was terrified that it would send me back into that destructive frame of mind again. I still probably share too much but I try to do it around people I know well rather than online, for anyone to read or watch, as I know how it's made me feel in the past when other people have done it. Plus, it's problematic for me. It makes me wallow in it, I got stuck in the mindset that I had to talk about it because it makes me unique, it'll make people want to read my blog, and I can't even begin to explain how unhealthy that is.

But I feel like I'm digressing. Back to the original topic - the question I have is this: will we ever know where that line is? Will we ever know when to stop talking about it? Are these actually conclusive issues that we can ever answer definitively? The way I see it is that there are two sides to sharing experiences both on blogs and in mainstream media such as Netflix. There's the side that the sufferers see - the damaging effects of romanticisation of their mental illnesses, the digressing back into their lowest points and the feeling that you can't get away from it. And there's the side that the non-sufferers see - the real, nitty gritty, graphic details of what it's like for us, and perhaps a greater understanding? But how do we decide which is more important? How do we decide when to stop sharing? How on earth can we begin to decide if it's more important to shield recovering people away from these things and just not talk about it so it doesn't trigger anyone, or if it's more important to raise awareness of the reality of mental illnesses? It's something I can't begin to place value on really. I think we're stuck between a rock and a hard place because neither option is ideal.

I'd love to hear any other thoughts on this because it's a very important topic and something we've got to talk about more. What do you think we should share and what do you think we should keep quiet? Where do you think we should draw that line between raising awareness and oversharing and how fine do you think that line is?

Also, just wanted to direct you to this blog post written by my friend Holly. She writes about accurate representation of eating disorders, talking about To The Bone and Feed and offers a different perspective to me, and like I said to her, her post is written with such depth and clarity so I'd really recommend having a read!

Emilia xx

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