“My name is XY and I’m an Instagram influencer. I may seem to have a perfect life, but behind my beautiful pictures is a tough mental health struggle.” FYI readers, this is not a “token Instagram influencer” meme. This is the main type of language used on TV by influencers discussing mental health, internet safety, social media and the pressure of sharing our lives online this week. As someone with a mental illness, an active Instagram profile where mental health is often discussed, and as a writer of a novel about mental illness and trauma, here are my two cents. Does mental health sell on Insta? Are we doing it right?
Totes not trying to be controversial over here, but I posted about this in my Insta stories and got a lot of responses so I thought it’d be good to have this conversation. I’ll be honest however: I myself overshare my mental health struggles on the ‘Gram. Plus, I LOVE social media. Without it, I would not have a job. After becoming the social media manager for a student society at uni, I got headhunted to manage a small recruitment agency’s social media, which led to PR internships and a career in PR and social media strategy.
Sure, I left PR because the day-to-day pressure of the job while trauma from my past was resurfacing had a negative impact on my mental health, but it taught me all I know. Through social media I market my blog and my novel, my pole dance progress and my career as an academic. I now teach social media alongside criminology at university and I actually enjoy creating content for a variety of platforms.
This isn’t an influencer bashing post either. While I wouldn’t call myself an influencer, because I don’t have followers in the hundreds of thousands and writing is my main business, I respect influencers’ hard work. Living off your posts and pictures isn’t easy: you are marketing yourself, and more often than not clients can avoid paying or pay late. You are always on. That shit’s hard work. So if you’re looking for a Luddite post, reader, this is not it. Go back to the Daily Express where you belong.
Influencers and Mental Health
What I have been noticing in the past few weeks is, however, a trend on social media that I am not enjoying. And that is the trend of mental health for views. With “mental health for views” I mean a variety of public-ish figures – influencers, bloggers, cats, whatever – that discuss mental health. The wrong way.
Is there a wrong way to discuss mental health, you ask? Well, personally I wouldn’t have been near where I am now if social media didn’t teach me that it’s ok to talk about your struggles. Through social media I realised that I’m not crazy (not too much, at least), and that my conditions (anxiety, PTSD, depression) are relatable, and shared by many people.
However, there is such thing as the wrong approach to mental health online. And recently I’ve read a lot of posts that were literally a plug for some product, or a mention in passing, to mental health struggles with a confusing message. It’s almost as if mental health is becoming yet another hack to get more views, to go to more events, to justify our need for attention.
Depression Is Not Your USP
As content creators, we have the responsibility to be honest with our audiences – not because we are their agony aunts, or because we owe them anything. More because if what we portray is not true, then we’re not writing a blog, or posting on an Insta feed: we are writing a weird graphic novel with our real face on it.
I don’t like naming and shaming, but if you post an airbrushed picture of yourself in a luxury hotel with fairies massaging your feet and unicorns bringing you breakfast, with the caption: “I’ve been really struggling,” it’s kinda like when I used to write “I AM SO SAD” on Facebook as a teen and when someone commented on my status I’d be like: “I DON’T WANNA TALK ABOUT IT.” It’s bringing attention to an issue that you are then not expanding on, and more worryingly it is painting a picture of mental illness that isn’t real.
I have stayed in luxury hotels through my writing and I’ve also used my writing to say I feel like shit. And trust me, when I feel like shit, I don’t look like I’m walking through a lavender field, or sipping champagne at the Savoy (still waiting for my invite, guys, btw! I look really cute when I drink champagne!). I don’t sashay on the streets of London clutching my (non-existent, another partnership I’m waiting for!) Chanel bag.
Mental Health Hacks That Don’t Work For Real People
Another typical post in the mental health Insta picture trend is: “I felt really bad yesterday, but today I decided to found my own feminist party, I published three novels and starred in my own biopic.”
I am currently being treated both through talking therapy and CBT to address past trauma from my abusive relationship, but also to start respecting myself. And clearly, something in my damaged emo brain decided that my worth was determined by how much tasks and responsibilities I could fill my life with.
While my academic/pole dancer/writer/blogger unreadable Insta bio might sound cool, in fact this productivity myth, this “I cured my mental illness by becoming an overachiever/ taking up yoga/ skydiving” scenario is damaging first of all for you, and secondly for your followers.