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Before You Write That Mental Health Post, Maybe… Don’t

Image by Wokandapix from Pixabay

I want to be careful how I word this, because I don’t really want to “out” the particular article/author that I have in mind here.

I was scrolling through Medium today and I came across an article with a rather surprising title, referring to the idea that this writer is a parent and does not like her infant children.

Hoping the title was just clickbait, I did open the article just to double-check it. Nope. The writer openly speaks of how much she does not like her second baby. “I honestly think I hate him.”

The article wasn’t an honest look at parenting that demonstrates how we’re all in this together and go through the same struggles. It was a few paragraphs written by someone who admits she struggles with mental health issues (which she refers to several times in the piece) and how she hates her baby.

It’s a few paragraphs of ranting about how hard things are for her, and… then it just ends. The subtitle of the piece when it showed up in my feed literally asks if someone can offer some advice for her. It was a call for help.

To me, this is the dark side of the proliferation of the internet, and it’s a problem.

Obligatory Disclaimer About Mental Health

At no point in this piece am I suggesting that I know a thing about the struggles of a new mother. My wife and I have three children, and the stress hits her differently than it hits me. And absolutely, postpartum depression is a serious issue that needs to be dealt with and not taken lightly.

Nor does this piece dismiss the struggles of this poor mother. She’s having a rough time. She needs help. There’s nothing wrong with admitting that or needing it.

The reason I am holding back details and not linking to the piece is because I am not interested in starting some kind of flame war, or to sic anybody on her. I disagree with her decision to write that – that doesn’t mean I think society needs to be re-molded in my image and everyone has to agree with me.

With that out of the way, let’s talk about the problem with the internet.

We’re looking for help online way too much

The promise of the internet is that it brings people together.

This is still true. You can connect with like-minded people and talk about your interests. You can build a career from the comfort of your home without having to go out and try to network with people. I owe my entire career to the internet. It’s great.

But it has its limits – and its dangers.

The internet, the way we use it, largely doesn’t bring people together in any meaningful way. Yes, you can make friends online. But I think the Age of COVID taught us that this is not the same thing as actually being with people.

Case in point: depression cases have tripled since the dawn of the pandemic. I would argue that one of the reasons for this is because we are all being cut off from society and social interaction.

The screen is not the real thing.

Human beings need warmth

During the start of lockdowns, I would jump on Zoom and play Trickster Cards with a few buddies. It was fun. We had laughs. But it wasn’t anywhere near the same as getting together.

I ran into a friend of mine who I hadn’t seen in a while. I knew he was struggling with mental health issues as the result of a stroke, and began seeing a therapist right as COVID hit. His in-person therapy sessions were moved to video chats. When I asked him if they were still helping, he sighed. “Yeah. They’re okay. They’re not the same as being in person, so they’re not quite as helpful, but at least it’s something.”

At least it’s something is not the way to live a satisfying life.

There is nothing like the warm embrace of a friend.

Shaking hands with a buddy.

Clinking glasses and laughing.

Looking into each other’s eyes, not a picture of each other’s eyes.

Turning to the internet for everything is causing major harm to our mental and emotional health. When I see a mother struggling with postpartum depression and mental health issues publishing a blog post on Medium about how she hates her kid, I see someone taking what I feel is a really dangerous approach to the situation – both now and in the future.

The end of privacy in a scary way

When people talk about privacy online, the discussion usually revolves around our online activities: Google and Facebook following us around, scraping our data and viewing habits. It bothers us.

But what should bother us more is this trend of sharing anything and everything about our lives online.

There was a time when certain topics weren’t discussed openly because it wasn’t polite.

Income and spending.

Mental health struggles.

What goes on in the bedroom.

Heck, a lot of political talk wasn’t welcome in public!

Now, some of these things weren’t because people believed there should be a stigma surrounding them (though that was the case for many), but because we used to believe that certain things were “none of your business.”

At what point do we admit that we are sharing too much?

And in the future, what about the child? The internet isn’t going anywhere. Everything is saved online. Nothing disappears. Imagine you’re a teenager who is browsing around online one night and you discover that, 15 years ago, your mom posted an article online for thousands of people to read about how much she hates you? What does that do to your own mental health?

This is not a call to internalize or stigmatize

The writer is going through something serious. That much is certain. Keeping it to herself does not help anybody. Nor would I suggest she should feel ashamed for what she’s struggling with. It’s not her fault, and it doesn’t mean she’s any less of a human being.

Instead, these are issues that should be shared with someone in person, in private: a friend. A family member. Someone you trust. A therapist, perhaps.

Have a friend over for coffee and talk about it with them.

If you don’t have any relationships that you trust, then that’s a problem, of course. But airing your dirty laundry on Medium doesn’t help matters. You’ll get some superficial encouragement, sure. But it won’t solve any problems, and you won’t be able to rely on any of those people online when your struggle gets worse.

You should talk about your problems. But that doesn’t mean talk about them openly in front of everybody. There’s a difference.

“That was their choice. You shouldn’t judge their decisions.”

Sorry. I’m judging.

In our rush to make sure that we are accepting of every behavior, every decision, every “truth”, and so on, we are ignoring – whether accidentally or purposefully – warning signs of a greater problem in society… just so that we are viewed as “open-minded” and “accepting.”

And it doesn’t fix anything.

In the 21st century, happiness and life satisfaction have plummeted:

See how it collapses pretty quickly after 2003? Facebook was created in 2004. That’s when we really went full-force into spending all our time online. Huh. Probably just a coincidence, hey?

“During the same time period that digital media use increased, adolescents began to spend less time interacting with each other in person, including getting together with friends, socializing, and going to parties. In 2016, iGen college-bound high school seniors spent an hour less a day on face-to-face interaction than GenX adolescents did in the late 1980s (Twenge et al., 2019). Thus, the way adolescents socialize has fundamentally shifted, moving toward online activities and away from face-to-face social interaction.”

By “normalizing” our dependence on internet activities and constantly sharing our mental health struggles online, we’re not helping.

I’m sure someone will flame me for this. Maybe a bunch of people will. But somebody has to speak up.

Build meaningful relationships in your life. Somewhere. Anywhere. Use the internet as a tool to find those people and build those relationships, but don’t let it be a replacement for them entirely!

Likes on a Facebook post aren’t the same thing as a congratulations and hug from a friend.

Claps on a Medium post can’t replace a friend by your side encouraging you.

Instead of putting all your energy into making funny TikTok videos and Instagram Reels, have some people over and make them laugh instead.

It’s far more fulfilling, productive, and healthy.

And if you really need help with an issue that is bothering you – like that mother appears to be dealing with – don’t write a blog post about it. If writing helps you, keep a private diary for that. Then go get help from somebody in flesh and blood.

The world doesn’t need to know every struggle you’re dealing with. And them knowing about it isn’t going to help you deal with it, either.