Knowing When to Be Silent

| September 27, 2018

Scrolling through Facebook, I stumbled across a message I have seen many times before. It was one of those copy/paste statuses that constantly spread through social media. Most people have probably seen something similar:

It offered physical, mental and emotional support to those who feel isolated, especially for mental health reasons. It was a plea for people to reach out and ask for help if they need it.

I scrolled through the comments on two different posts, both with the same copy/paste message, but the comments on the two posts were astronomically different.

On the first post, words of encouragement were prolific, and the commenters were all highly supportive of this offer of emotional support. But in the second, the (only) string of comments went a little differently.

The commenters all seemed to be close friends to the original poster, and instead of support and encouragement for this initiative for mental health awareness, the post overflowed with lighthearted comments and inside jokes. Words to the effect of “Ooh, can I come over too?” and “Let’s turn this into a party!” turned a well-intentioned post into an improvisational plan for a weekend get-together.

The people who posted these statuses meant their offerings wholeheartedly, and I commend them for their efforts. But the significance of this attempt to reach out to people quickly got lost amidst the comments of people who do not take their message seriously.

Mental illness is defined by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) as “a health condition that changes a person’s thinking, feelings, or behavior (or all three) and that causes the person distress and difficulty in functioning.” The term mental illness can include depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder and bipolar disorder, along with many other conditions.

The Facebook post was meant to reach out to people who needed help but was overpowered by comments from people who did not take the original message seriously.

Social media is all about connecting friends, but occasionally it is about something more than just status updates and shareable pictures.

Approximately 20 percent of Americans over the age of 18 suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder, the NCBI said. One in five people who scrolled past that post probably needed to hear those words of openness and encouragement. But, unfortunately, the offer of emotional support got clouded by thoughtless comments.

My fear is that someone who truly needs a lifeline might ignore an offer like that simply because of comments that don’t take the message of mental health awareness seriously. A post offering support could change, or even save, someone’s life. But it will only be effective if the people in need feel like their problems will be taken seriously, and thoughtless comments might prevent someone from seeking help.

Isolation is a recurring problem, especially for people suffering from mental illness, according to the NCBI. It is often difficult to ask for help when dealing with a mental illness, especially if the person has emotionally retreated from their friends and family.

It’s easy to consider social media posts as unimportant. It’s easy to forget that people around you might be dealing with serious issues when most people just post their highlights. But mental health is a serious issue, and it should be treated as such. Even on a Facebook post.



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