Mental Illness and Social Media
Over the past several months, I've slowly begun to notice a pattern in regards to the mentally ill, and their use of Twitter and other forms of social media. At first they just seem to come across as trolls, but when lack of logic or reason penetrates, and weird cyberstalking behavior manifests, it becomes obvious that something isn't quite right on the other side of the keyboard.
Up until today I was taking this behavior the wrong way. I saw it as philosophy gone wrong or politics gone wrong, and didn't fully recognize there was actually, instead, a terrible sadness and tragedy here. It wasn't until I talked to a friend who had to take care of a mentally-ill loved one for many years that I began to realize that maybe, some of these people are not really 100 percent responsible for their disturbing behavior.
It is heartbreaking to consider that in these early days of social media, many with mental handicaps are left to fend its horrifying corridors for themselves, with no family or friends to intervene should things go awry.
Further, I find it disgusting that certain people, for political purposes, thought it would be a good idea to try to "herd" some of these afflicted together online. Now it seems that each of these sufferers enables and enhances the other's afflictions, to create a special and brand new form of hell filled with paranoia and anger, intrigue and terror. Something which none of them deserve.
No matter what your politics.
There is little doubt in my mind that the medical books on mental illness will be rewritten because of our age; I'm fairly certain that something mild, which might never have been noticed fifty years ago, will be shown to grow like an aggressive tumor when exposed to the radioactive world of Twitter and Facebook, chat and IM, blogs and micro-blogs.
Today the addict to alcohol or drugs is likely to have multiple offers of help from all quarters, as these afflictions are recognized for what they are. These "interventions" are something of a cliche, and a favorite scene for television writers to depict. Our culture, on the whole, understands the nature of these diseases. Alcohol has been around for quite a while, after all.
Perhaps, in the future, those who suffer from this disease, which has no real name yet ("computer addiction" doesn't seem to be exactly what I am observing), will find themselves similarly saved by those around them.
Until then, if you've already been diagnosed with a disorder and think that continued use of social media is making it worse, please, please consider stepping away from the computer and talking to your doctor about it.
Science has no idea what the extended use of social media platforms have upon the healthy. It knows even less what its effects are to those who are already suffering.
Update II: Special thanks to Joe Brooks, who pointed out one link which led to many others. This caught my eye - a scientific study on the subject...
Psychologist Karyn Krawford claims that extreme trolling may be a sign of mental ill-health.
Ms Krawford said she had done studies which showed the empathy of mental health sufferers decreased for every hour they spent online.
"This lack of empathy caused people to become emotionally immune and desensitised to images they're not seeing in real life," she said.
In one study, subjects displayed a complete lack of empathy when shown images of people dying. "They couldn't see how much that person was hurting; they couldn't see the cut off arm or the pain and distress and terror.
"As a consequence they were able to make these remarks and express these bullying type behaviours."
Update III: Special thanks to an alert reader online, who wondered if this article was an effort to diagnose people over the Internet in some form of revenge. On a second read through, I can see how I did not make it clear that I am referring to people who have already referred to their own mental-illness diagnosis, and, more widely, to those who are suffering from an illness, in the hopes that they will reconsider their use of social media. A secondary goal is to help those who are under attack to understand that anger in return is not the best response. It is much harder, after all, to get angry when one realizes that such an aggressor is not always in complete control of their own faculties.
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