Mental Health is not an engagement tool
This morning while I was on Instagram I had a follower of mine reach out to me about her concerns regarding a post that was made by the account @Feminist which has over 1.6 million followers.
I feel compelled to let you know how many followers they have because I truly believe that any large account on any social media platform has an ethical obligation and duty to conduct themselves in such a way as to not put the public in harms way. This is especially important when you are an account that presents itself as a “voice” for mental health.
Before I really get into this, I want to be clear that I believe there is room for all kinds of accounts on social media that relate to mental health. Whether it’s an account run by someone who has a mental health diagnosis, whether it’s an account that is run by a mental health professional, a family member of someone with a mental health diagnosis, an aspiring psychology/psychiatry/social work student or someone who may not have a formal education in the field but feels drawn to inspiring others; I feel like there is room for all of us.
However, I also want to be very clear about the ethical obligations that we all face when we are speaking to the public about serious mental health topics and it is each account owners responsibility to understand the privilege and responsibility that comes with such a position.
So let’s get into it…
This is the post my follower alerted me to this morning on the @Feminist account on Instagram:
What do you notice when you read this?
At first glance it could feel innocent enough. Calling for their followers to comment with a colorful emoji heart indicating their current mood. In the caption they even write “If you see someone comment a heart that indicates they need help, reply to their comment and try to lift their spirits.”
Here’s one of the many problems of this post:
1.) @Feminist did not include ANY resources in the body of the post/caption informing the public where they can access mental health resources. There is no mention of resources, anywhere. The resources they “call upon” are their followers to step into the role of mental health clinicians to “lift spirits.”
2.) As of this morning there are 21,133 comments and if you spend 30 seconds scrolling through the comments your heart will drop into your stomach after you realize how many people are commenting that they are currently experiencing acute suicidal thoughts and ideation. Additionally, many of these comments are from people saying they feel ignored by the account as no one has reached out to them. Here are some examples of the comments left on this post:
This is just a MICROSCOPIC sample of the THOUSANDS of comments that were left on their post by people feeling vulnerable enough to post that they were experiencing suicidal thoughts and were offered no supportive resources by @Feminist. To say this is irresponsible and problematic on @Feminist’s part is the understatement of the year.
3.) By @Feminist only offering up their own followers as a means for support to the people that commented they were experiencing suicidal ideation is another massively irresponsible thing to put on the shoulders of their followers, not to mention it is the absolute opposite of managing people’s expectations of each other. Please do not get me wrong… I was young once too & on the internet and thought (prior to Grad School) that I could take on the pain of other strangers by just offering my empathetic ear but the truth of the matter is I had zero clue what I was doing, I had no idea about the emotional ramifications of making myself so available and vulnerable to other people’s crisis’ and trauma.
Simply put, I had personal limitations to how much I could provide to someone I didn’t know as I was not trained, not experienced enough and what I could offer was extremely limited due to personal and geographic resources. I was a bleeding heart (still am which is why I am so passionate about writing this) and I just didn’t want anyone in pain but I was also ignorant to the many complexities of intervening on someone acutely suicidal.
This exact dynamic plays out in the above mentioned screen shot between the person who stated they had posted prior (this isn’t the first time @Feminist posted this same exact post) and she got no replies. You then see a follower responding to the comment stating “I cannot respond to all the black hearts” but she goes on to say that if anyone needs anything to please DM her/him. I cannot even imagine the stress and responsibility that person may now feel because he/she could very well become inundated with crisis related DM’s from strangers of which she is not equipped to handle.
To be crystal clear as I do not want any confusion on the part of anyone reading this, I think it is incredibly important to keep the conversation about mental health going, to be supportive of each other and to reach out to our loved ones especially if we sense something has changed with their mood or behavior. This post is about addressing a large platform on social media encouraging people to respond with a black heart emoji if they are having suicidal thoughts and then not backing it up with viable resources. THAT is what this post is about.
This brings us to the message I sent to @Feminist which has gone unanswered
For good measure I also contacted them via their website since it appears they do not respond to DM’s in a reasonable amount of time which brings me to my next concern…
It’s been a few hours since I wrote to @Feminist asking for an explanation and strongly recommending they revise their post to reflect viable community resources for their followers and I have heard no response. I have had several other people tell me they reached out to them too and haven’t heard a peep from @Feminist.
This is problematic on several levels:
First, @Feminist has to know that by posting something like this they are going to get A LOT of DM’s from people seeking support. A lot of DM’s that are apparently being ignored due to what I imagine is a lack of resources, experience or intention to respond to everyone.
For comparison, my Instagram account @HilariousHumanitarian has a fraction of the followers (509,000) they have and I get approximately 200-300 messages a day and that is without posting content that explicitly encourages my followers to reach out to me about their mental health concerns like they have done. Based on these numbers and the fact that they received over 24,000 comments on their post and have over 1.6 million followers I am lead to believe @Feminist has probably received hundreds, if not thousands of messages from people in crisis that have gone answered.
Secondly: Even if @Feminist had the man/woman power to respond to each DM, THEY SHOULD NOT BE PROVIDING MENTAL HEALH CRISIS SUPPORT THROUGH INSTAGRAM’S DM FEATURE. The legal and ethical ramifications are for an entirely different post but take it from someone who is licensed in the field of mental health when I tell you what they have done with this post is completely unethical, irresponsible, problematic and harmful.
@Feminist has posted this same exact post twice. They posted a few weeks ago (screen shot below) and they posted it yesterday. When they originally posted it they got over 37,000 comments and they didn’t leave resources on that post either. I could be wrong but a simple review of their account shows pretty clearly that these two posts have been their most “successful” posts they have ever made and by “successful” I mean having the most online engagement from people leaving comments. A few followers and dear friends of mine that work in the mental health field have also written directly to @Feminist asking them to make this right, to post resources and to understand the harm they may have caused and we have received no response, no revision of their post. Nothing.
As I wrap this post up I want to say that I really was hoping @Feminist would do the right thing on their own. At the very least, I was hoping that after reading the DM’s pleading for them to make a revision and to post mental health resources for their followers that they would follow suit but no such luck. I also wish they would have at least responded to my DM after reading it (screen shot below) but I guess they are too busy selling T-shirts.
So to anyone who is reading this and are or were following @Feminist I want to offer an apology on behalf of them. I’m sorry that you are in pain. I want you to know that things do get better and all feelings and situations are temporary but that the pain you are feeling is being validated and not minimized. You are of value, you are loved, you deserve to be alive and thriving. You deserve happiness, peace, safety and a space to feel comfortable being you.
I also want to add in closing that I don’t know the people that run @Feminist, I am sure they aren’t awful people and it appears they are involved in other campaigns that help the greater good. The simple fact that they have 1.6 million followers is proof they are doing something right and a lot of people feel connected with their content. However, this is an important learning moment for them. It is a time for them to listen to people reaching out to them letting them know they messed up and for them to show they care about righting their wrongs. I strongly believe that just because people do good things doesn’t mean they are exempt from having some major screw ups. My gut is telling me that this is one of those moments for them and only time will tell if they decide to do the right thing. This is about accountability and I welcome everyone to hold each other accountable, in addition to ourselves.
If you feel like you need to talk to someone because you are experiencing suicidal thoughts please contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. They are available 24/7. You can also visit 211.org or call 211 for local resources. If you have insurance, please contact your insurance provider to make an appointment with a mental health provider or at the very least make an appointment with your family doctor. To access the Online LifeLine Chat please visit https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/chat/ For other resources related to mental health please visit https://www.nami.org/ and lastly if you do not have insurance please consider applying for Medi-Caid or Medi-Cal through your local county health office and speak to them about the resources they have available for you in your county. There is also a possibility of finding a local therapist who takes a sliding scale fee and will base it off of your income that way you can pay cash and avoid getting your insurance involved with payment.
Thank you for reading