By Matt Roseby
Special to The Express
Mental health, as it seems, has become one of the defining social movements of the Millennial generation. And whilst our peer group has often been labelled as inhabitants of a techno-dystopia, the interconnectivity that is inextricable from this social technology has provided instrumental, unfathomable changes to the foundations of how we as a society address mental health.
While individuals from all generations have been vital in shifting society away from a gainsaid population of silent sufferers, Australian Professor Gordon Parker AO for example, who pioneered our understanding of mood disorders and Bipolar, stated that it is hard to look past the grassroot contributions of the collective youth as one of, if not the most, paramount efforts.
Social technology, specifically social media, has fostered candid, outspoken conversations about personal experiences of mental health, rapidly breaking down the long-standing social barriers which lead to a global culture of underdiagnoses, repudiation of the legitimacy and severity of mental illness, and a dangerously deep misallocation of resources.
And while the days of forced electroconvulsive therapy, or electrotherapy, are in the past, the effects of previous attitudes towards mental health are very much still felt today. Social technology has, without a doubt, a number of adverse influences on mental health within society, but having kick started the conversation on mental illness is a monumental achievement that is often overshadowed by negative perceptions.
It’s important to understand why the forthright, brutally lurid conversation about mental health is such an important aspect of society’s development towards a positive mental health environment. In the past, I have found that much of the reason mental illness is so hard to communicate, and perhaps why much of society struggles to fully grasp its nature, is the limited capacity of the human mind to imagine subjects in which it has no prior experience. Asking someone to imagine the experience of an anxiety attack for example, has in my experience, led to the envision of intense nerves or worry, which fails to effectively capture the encapsulating, incapacitating nature of an anxiety attack.
Repeated across society, this lack of understanding leads to the delegitimization of the severity of mental illness and a flawed understanding of its functioning and the ensuing behaviors of those suffering with mental illness. Self admittedly, my opinion is backed up by little formal education in psychology (by little, I mean none), but being a deep interest of mine, the array of second-hand experiences I have hearkened have provided me significant insight into the raw character of mental health.
Some psychiatrists will also add that the subjectivity of mental illness as a conscious experience, a concept defined as Qualia, leads to difficulties in diagnosis and self-recognition of a potential mental illness. Combined, these barriers have provided significant resistance to the progression of treatment resources and societal understanding in regards to mental illness. And this is where social technology has become an unforeseen, underrecognized knight in shining armor; connecting masses of people across barriers which prohibit traditional conversations, has allowed for less mainstream symptoms of mental illness to receive significant recognition.
And the fostering of open conversations, often with humorous undertones or context, has led to not only greater normalization of mental illness, breaking down the long-standing stigma, but also highlights the bona fide, contemporary experiences of mental illness.
This provides individuals who perhaps never considered themselves to have a mental illness, or those unsure of their concerns over their mental health were legitimate, the ability to cross check their symptoms and experiences with those of others in a highly accessible, unconditional, and covert manner.
Admittedly, this wave of often comical takes on mental health have led to developing issues, such as an overdiagnosis trend and the romanticizing of mental illness, however, these issues pale in comparison to the cost we as a society bore for generations in exchange for the discredit of mental illness and ignorance towards its resource demands.
These societal shifts have been paramount, and I would confidently attribute much of its credit to today’s youth. I would offer these achievements, which unquestionably have salvaged the lives of an unnamable number of mental health sufferers, and provided unparalleled progression in the development of a more effective, global mental health framework, as a rebuttal to the heavy criticism social technology receives. By no means is our use of social technology a consummate practice, however, I strongly believe its benefits are often times overshadowed by poor preconceptions of its use and effects, and when its input into mental health improvements in examined, I find it hard to believe its benefits could be disputed.