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Why Processing Grief Over Celebrity Deaths Online May Be Harming Our Mental Health

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Editor's Note

This story reflects an individual’s experience and is not an endorsement from The Mighty. We believe in sharing a variety of perspectives from our community.

If you experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

On January 30, 2022, Cheslie Kryst, a former Miss USA winner, attorney and Extra correspondent, died by suicide. News of Kryst’s death prompted an immediate response on social media, both from celebrities who knew the beauty queen personally and grief-stricken strangers who felt for Kryst’s mental health struggles and her family’s grief. The collective response to Kryst’s untimely death at age 30 resulted in social media news feeds full of sadness, loss and discussions about suicide.

I heard about Cheslie Kryst’s death on Instagram from a post by a celebrity who had personally known her. I knew nothing of this woman other than what I gleaned from social media — Kryst was a stunning, intelligent, uplifting woman with a successful career and a seemingly bright future. Still, though, I felt a sense of kinship with her — this was a woman who people may not have known struggled so deeply with depression because she was radiant, accomplished and polished — exactly how I’ve tried to present myself in some of my darkest moments.

Like Kryst, I’ve struggled with depression and suicidality — even within the same week she died by suicide. The day Kryst died, I felt torn between my desire to live and the nagging feeling that I could have met the same fate as she did. As I scrolled through posts mourning Kryst, I wondered if it should have been me who died instead of her, especially considering that not long before her death, I was battling severe depression. The news re-opened old wounds — the desire to quietly, peacefully fade away and escape life. I felt I should acknowledge Kryst’s death in some way, but seeing post after post discussing depression and suicide made me want nothing more than to curl up into a ball, hide under a blanket, and retreat indefinitely from the online world.

The spate of celebrity deaths in the past few weeks and the inclination to mourn beloved stars on social media has recently sparked conversations about the effects of “internet grieving.” After years of mourning deceased celebrities online, social media users are beginning to realize just how deeply the pervasive news of celebrity deaths in the online world can affect mental health. Although the mental health stigma is waning — as evidenced by how open people from all walks of life have been about Cheslie Kryst’s death — “social media grief” has not often permeated discussions about mental wellness. Perhaps social media is so ingrained in our culture that grieving online and seeing news feeds full of death day in and day out is considered so “normal” that it’s virtually non-negotiable.

Still, perhaps expressing collective grief over celebrity deaths shouldn’t be so normalized.

It can be tempting to pay tribute to celebrities who pass away, especially when they either feel like quintessential parts of our lives or we identify with them in some way, but it’s often just as important to check in with ourselves about how a star’s death makes us feel before we take action. If the news of a celebrity’s passing seems to saturate social media or causes us to feel overwhelmed or triggered, then it may be time to step away from social media instead of giving into the pressure to grieve online. Declining to publicly process our emotions about celebrity deaths on social media often doesn’t mean we lack empathy or don’t support important causes. On the contrary, it may mean we desperately need self-preservation in a chaotic, confusing time — and there’s no shame in that.

Though social media’s effects on mental health have been oft-discussed for the past several years, the mental and emotional effects of grieving online have just recently begun to enter society’s collective conscience. Grief can elicit feelings of anxiety, sadness and anger no matter where and how it’s processed, but grieving online breeds a lack of control over the extent to which we see others grieve and the ways we see them manage their grief, which can amplify the emotional effects of our own grieving process. Although social media can be a powerful tool for self-expression and advocacy, it isn’t a substitute for professional help in coping with grief and other complex mental states.

Recent celebrity deaths have prompted an outpouring of mourning on social media, but “online grieving” may be doing us more harm than good. When we feel like our news feeds are full of death and sadness, it’s important that we take the space to practice self-care and process our grief in the ways that feel healthiest to us — our personal healing matters more than our social media presence.

Getty image by Ponomariova_Maria

Originally published: February 7, 2022
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