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What Social Media Doesn't Tell You About Mental Illness

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“All smiles.”

That was my Instagram caption on this photo during the worst summer. Why did I post it, you may ask? Because of the pressure. Everyone from school was showing themselves traveling, meeting up with friends, eating delicious food and just having a great time. And what could I say? That I was spending all of my time working so I didn’t have to face my anxiety and eating disorder? That I felt trapped in my childhood home, like I was moving backward at a time when I’m supposed to be discovering my independence?

No way. Social media is not meant to explain the bad days, it’s meant to cover them up. We hear about suicides and exclaim, “But they seemed so happy” and we scroll through their profiles, looking for signs. The sign we cannot see is the shame associated with having a bad day. When your college team wins a big game or you celebrate the holidays or you transition to a new place, the expectation is you are happy. So you share what you think happy is, hoping the “likes” will serve as validation that this is the way you should be feeling.

Here is what social media does not tell you. We post photos of ourselves at the peak of the mountain and we pretend we were never in the valley. But it is only half of the truth. Having a social media image can be therapeutic, so let’s by all means not avoid it. But we should be careful to think we know the whole story about someone from scrolling through a profile. If it is not the reality for ourselves, then how can we expect it to be real for anyone else?

I have found when I sit down with others and ask how they are, this is when their filters fall off. That is when I know it is not just me. It is easy for me to idealize the summer before recovery because of the careful way I documented it. Every time I think I would be happier if I went back to the way things were, I write down the truth. It puts everything into perspective and after my summer of filtered smiles, it has helped change my life.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

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Photo via contributor.

Originally published: April 4, 2017
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