At some point in the last decade mental health broke ground into the mainstream consciousness. Maybe it was social media, communication is no longer at a premium and anyone can pick up a camera and shoot. Distribution reach is unlimited with the right content.
There has been steady flow of celebrity into the realm of emotional well-being. The cynic in me sees a marketing ploy, the marginal optimist might have welcomed the evolution. Or maybe mental health issues are so pervasive they really do affect everyone without discrimination?
Demi Lovato is one high-profile celebrity with a diagnosed mental health condition
The truth is probably somewhere in the grey middle. The normalisation of discussing mental wellbeing is here, but how helpful is it? Can a culturally commodified, self-care narrative really support those in need? What impact does it have on people with serious mental illnesses? This post examines these concerns.
What does it mean to commodify mental health? It is simply the practice of leveraging alleged experience of ill-health to package and sell products or raise profile for personal gain without any community benefit.
Let's be frank. Living with a mental disorder is no picnic. For the patient, their family, or inner circle of friends. It impacts every aspect of life from relationships to careers to personal perception of the self. It is a disruptive, malignant force intent on wreaking havoc.
Recovery is an ever-present theme in the life of the patient and in most cases they must learn to live alongside the diagnosis, as opposed to convalesce and heal.
It is a long process but embracing the issue is a major step in regaining lost ground. It requires resilience and communication. Radical acceptance, the ultimate in "Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change" is also essential.
Mental health is complex and does not run in straight lines. For people directly affected by ill-health, it is difficult to pin down and define. It can be a shadow.
It is essential people seek professional help and get assessed. This allows them to build a framework in which they can recover. That framework is rarely found on social media.
Shared experience and celebrity colour is fine, but it must be followed up with an honest appraisal of support services. It is not enough just to shed light on the problem. It requires dynamic action.
The impulse to share should be welcomed. A new narrative is good. However it should not come at the cost of glamourising these conditions, commodifying them like any other product.
It is important that the pathway to recovery can be shown. Recovery is like an iceberg, you only see the 10% cosmetic visual, you do not recognise the hours of work and discipline and resilience that supports this visual.
Without explaining the action people are just shouting into the void, and the communication becomes something else. It becomes commodified. It tastes different. Almost self-serving, like a personal therapy at the expense of the viewer.
Self-Care & Instagram Therapy
Positive dopamine feedback is like a backstreet therapist.
Rolling through Instagram hashtags related to mental health is an experience. Self-care is big business, promoted by many from the micro-influencer to the company shilling mental health as a marketing tag-line, hanging there like a self-congratulating flag of indulgence.
True self-care is practical. Its a walk around the block when you can't get out of bed. It's cleaning your room. It is often weekly therapy for those who can pay for it. It's about doing the basics, the things normal people would find preposterous to even consider as a daily issue.
Self-care is being twisted away from the basic, banal aspects of life, like brushing teeth, and morphed into a social media orgy of bath bombs and "wine o'clock."
Someone, somewhere is always selling something. Using mental health as leverage is just the cost of doing business.
This is damaging and diminishes the power of self-care, a legitimate coping mechanism with the mental health community.
It is not a passive thing. It is a professional tool to encourage patients, cultivating actions and activities that will support a real recovery.
"Self-care thus champions these seemingly unconscious actions that can cause such strain for sufferers."
Social media is a fantastic medium, but it has its problems, most notably narcissism. This can compound the plight of a sufferer who is mentally paralysed by comparison. And that's before you come to the accounts that promote mental health in a way that feels more like self-promotion and designer chic.
When it comes to online, if it doesn't feel right, it's probably wrong. Genuine people do not leverage their illness, history, and pain, for the gain of profile or dollar.
Everybody Can Hurt
Everyone is somewhere on the spectrum. Stress and environment can cause anyone to be in need of professional services. A healthy past is no guarantee of a seamless future. Conditions like anxiety can build over time and strike down healthy people.
But there is a distinction to be made with people who are in the narrower percentiles with conditions that are chronically debilitating.
Commodifying these conditions and packaging them into a product that can be sold, or add value to an existing thing, is wrong. It doesn't help the people with these conditions and it makes light work of illustrating how chronic they can be.
Commodifying mental health puts it alongside any other product, packaged in its own way and consumed by the general public with the arresting reality of what it means to have bipolar order or schizophrenic disorder or an eating disorder.
There are many accounts that treat the subject respectfully. They use the mediums to communicate helpful behaviour, creating community and a sense of understanding, but they can't be considered enough.
Solutions that address the complexity of mental health can't always be packaged into 30 second reel or a caption.
Mental ill health affects all parts of society. Unfortunately we have a system where people are often left to deal with the issue alone. This isolates the sufferer from the wider community and leaves people vulnerable to substance abuse and addiction.
If we were serious about this complexity we would be discussing the underlying issues that create fertile ground for mental health problems. Social anxiety, lack of employment prospects, the continual attack on the modular family; if you're brave enough to look, and post.
*If you are affected by any of the issues raised in this article, you can contact; The Samaritans (phone 116123), or Pieta House (1800 247 247).