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  • Writer's picturekearneybronwen

Have we over-normalised mental health?

There's a lot of mental health-related social media content out there at the minute, explaining or diagnosing mental health disorders. While I'm sure these posts aren't made with bad intentions, they're often inaccurate and can lead to wider misunderstandings around mental health disorders. I've lost count of the times I've heard or seen clinical terms thrown around when someone has a characteristic that might be similar to a symptom of a disorder .e.g.- "I'm so OCD" when someone likes things organised, or clean, or "I'm so bipolar" when someone has mood swings.

Around ten years ago, when I finally told one of my friends I'd been diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder and Anxiety, was taking anti-depressants, and was having counselling, she replied 'Well, who isn't?'. I didn't say anything at the time, but I often think about it now and think the answer to the question is 'Well, most people'. Most people are not diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder and Anxiety. Most people are not taking anti-depressants. And most people are not having counselling. So why did she reply like that?

Her response diminished my struggles, and suggested that everyone else felt the same. Maybe she thought what I was experiencing with a diagnosed mental health condition was the same as everyone else who has ever felt anxious or depressed? And this is what's worrying.

The rise of mental health content on social media seems to explain and understand normal emotions through symptoms of mental illness. Negative emotions are too often seen as symptoms of disorders, rather than what they actually are - negative emotions. Terms like OCD, bipolar, depression and anxiety are thrown around so much when we're not really sure what they mean. Not only does this minimise the impact these conditions can have on those diagnosed with them, but it also prevents us from recognising our own emotions and understanding our own mental health.

Lots of 'symptoms' of mental health disorders, are actually reasonable, understandable emotional responses to difficult situations. Anxiety is a normal emotion felt by everyone at some point, and different situations make different people anxious. Some psychological distress in response to a temporary distressing situation is normal. This is not to diminish the anxiety felt by those without a clinical disorder, but feeling anxious is not the same as having clinical anxiety, and shouldn't be treated the same.

Raising awareness of mental health can reduce stigma, teach people how to respond to someone opening up about their mental health, and normalise having conversations about mental health. But I feel like there's a line between trying to make those who are struggling feel less alone, and making out that mental health disorders are so common that you just need to 'get on with it'. Social media seems to instead be raising awareness of mental health conditions, encouraging people to self-diagnose, which is not helpful.

It might make more sense to promote that, it's

okay to feel emotions but, there is a spectrum and a time where professional help should be sought. That it's okay to struggle with your mental health, but that's not the same as having a mental health disorder. You need to understand your own emotions and mental health. What does your good mental health look like, and what is bad mental health? What can you do to look after your mental health? Do you know who to talk to, and where to seek help if needed?

Hopefully we can continue to raise awareness in a way that aids understanding of mental health and mental illness, and the impacts it can have on the individual diagnosed. Hopefully we can continue to normalise conversations around mental health, making it easier for those struggling to open up a conversation and ask for help. Hopefully we can reduce stigma around mental health disorders, and teach people how to respond to someone opening up about their mental health struggles.

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