Gemma Styles | Contributing writer | Saturday, 14 May 2016

Gemma Styles: How Instagram Got Us Talking About Our Mental Health

Gemma Styles: How Instagram Got Us Talking About Our Mental Health

The Debrief: 'I want to thank everyone who's brave enough to speak up and share their mental health messages. The silence is what creates stigma and shame.'

Photo by Matilda Hill-Jenkins

From teen model Essena O’Neill revealing the truth behind her Instagram photos last year, to household name Zoe Sugg (a.k.a Zoella) giving anxiety advice, it seems like social honesty is the latest must for young women online. With high profile stories such as these making headlines and more and more people joining in on the Insta-amnesty, the legion of the pretty and perfect are calling bullshit and opening up about the real lives behind the filters. 

Honestly, if I’m having a rough day/week/month, I just post less. For some people, Instagram is a big part of their livelihood and cultivating their success means sometimes having to pout through it – I don’t think there’s necessarily anything bad about this. Even if you don't have millions of followers and make your living online, some people feel like they need to keep up a facade, or put on a brave face, maintaining a picture of themselves being 'fine.' If you’re feeling like shit then you don’t really want to profess that to the world and invite them into it – I certainly don’t anyway – but if you have to keep on going then I don’t think it’s dishonest to slap on a smile.

After the fact though, when not right in the thick of the black cloud, it might be a little easier to open up about experiences of sadness, worries and mental health issues. That’s not to say you *should* tell everyone. What someone wants to share online with friends and strangers is completely up to them. Maybe doing a tell-all Instagram caption is your worst nightmare, and that’s fine… but if you feel like it might help you, sharing your story might actually be really valuable to other people too.

One account doing just that is @letstalkaboutmentalhealth. Run by Jessica Walsh, the Instagram account and accompanying website is an offshoot of another project Jessica was involved in called 12 Kinds of Kindness; started with a friend in New York, this is a 12 step program to becoming a kinder, more empathetic person. A noble quest if ever I heard one. Encouraging people to share their own stories of depression, anxiety, OCD anorexia and all kinds of mental health issues, the Let's Talk site and Instagram account are sharing real, personal accounts of what goes on in other people's heads.

Similarly to the honest accounts being shared by individuals on their own accounts, this effort is providing a more central place to tell stories in collaboration with others. Speaking to Metro, Jessica said: 'I started talking more openly about my past struggles over the last weeks and was surprised to find how many others had suffered with various kinds of mental health issues as well.

The problem is very few people talk about it. This silence is what creates the stigma and shame.

After so many people approached me with their own stories after I shared mine, this inspired me to create a website where people could tell their own stories.'

Being able to read other people's experiences of mental health issues is often said to be beneficial to others who are suffering; from helping to articulate feelings that it's hard to explain, to just knowing someone else can relate, getting people talking more can only be a good thing. For all the people speaking up and sharing their own messages, I'm sure there are plenty more who are reading and appreciating these stories on the sidelines - thanks from me to everyone brave enough to do so.

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