After a shooting, you’ll get the Thoughts and Prayers™ posts and a resurgence of the ‘so terrified I only feel comfortable when I can kill at any moment’ crowd versus the ‘so terrified I don’t feel comfortable leaving my house’ crowd. After every natural disaster, the Ts & Ps come out again, as do links to donate to various relief organisations.
And after a celebrity dies from suicide, there’s going to be a deluge of shock because it’s hard for a neurotypical person to understand how universal mental illness is, and there’s going to be a wave of “I’m always here if you need me!” type posts. While the former is certainly irksome and indicative of a larger issue, I’m more concerned with the latter.
I understand where this is coming from on the surface. You want to make sure everyone knows that you’re compassionate. And I understand where this is coming from underneath the surface. You don’t want the emotional labour of supporting someone with mental illness. We’re hard work sometimes, and most people are already at capacity.
Social Script Cop-outs
When I was younger, I spent more time than an adolescent likely should attending funerals. It wasn’t a weird hobby or anything, my family just had a lot of bad luck. And if I had a dollar for every time I heard the phrase “If there’s anything I can do, just let me know” I probably wouldn’t have any student debt.
It’s a weird custom, because I believe these days it largely comes with an implicit agreement that you’re not going to ask them for any help, so they’re safe in offering their help. And I kind of feel the same way about all those “My door is always open” sentiments.
The fact of the matter is, if someone is depressed, they’re probably an expert at hiding it. And if they’re having suicidal ideation, chances are they’re not able to seek help. If this is you, and you do want help, that’s fantastic and I’m proud of you for seeking help. And there are great services, like the Samaritans, that can help.
But if someone is close to making or has made the decision to hurt themself, I think many wouldn’t reach out at that stage. They’re convinced no one cares, or They’ve isolated themself to the point of feeling like there’s no one they could turn to.
The “I’m always here if you need to talk” posts aren’t for them, not really, even if they do come from a place of love or genuine desire to help address mental illness and the lives it claims. They’re for you, and for your followers, kind of like those “if there’s anything you need” well-wishers at those family funerals.
So what can you do instead?
By all means, keep posting hotlines and resources. Even if no one engages with your post, seeing it might be what someone needs to take that first step. But also consider that these services are largely run on donations and staffed by volunteers. So maybe consider getting involved. If you have money, donate it. They need it. (Samaritans [UK] / National Suicide Prevention Hotline [US] / Suicide Prevention Australia / Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention)
Check on your people.
Some of the people struggling the most are also the funniest, kindest, most resilient people you know. Mental illness does not discriminate. Touch base with your friends. Not only does it give them a lifeline if they’re in a bad place, but it’ll make you feel good too. Reconnecting with people I’ve fallen out of touch with, while extremely hard for me, has been really rewarding.
If someone’s in trouble, they’re probably not going to reach out. You have to take that first step.
Use your vote.
Many who struggle with mental illness the most come from marginalised demographics. So if it’s something that’s important to you, try to research where your representatives stand on the subject. Here’s a starting point for the US and the UK. They may not be from 2018, but they’re, as I said, a place to start.
So there’s my salty cynicism in regards to social media and my general suspicion that everyone is virtue signalling more than they care to admit.