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Social Media Communities Are Destigmatizing Mental Health—and Simone Biles Is Proof
As Olympic stars vocalize the importance of mental health, social media communities are using their platform to encourage awareness and change.
When gymnast Simone Biles announced that she was dropping out of several upcoming events in the 2021 Tokyo Olympic Games to focus on her mental health, the world was in shock. The four-time Olympic gold medalist had developed a reputation for her gravity-defying moves that sparked a buzz, resulting in an online presence of almost seven million followers on Instagram and close to two million on Twitter. Despite the initial confusion, the online community swiftly reacted with support.
U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal tweeted “Simone Biles is a true legend & incredible champion. Her courageous decision to put her mental health first is an inspiration. Thank you for being a bright beacon of grace & fortitude.” Oscar award-winning actress Viola Davis posted her support for Biles on Instagram stating, “You have shifted the sport and reminded us what it means to be HUMAN… and because of all this… you will be remembered.” TikTok user @thatbookbabe went viral with a video of her father commencing a prayer circle for Biles’ mental health.
In response to the influx of support Biles tweeted, ”The outpouring love & support I’ve received has made me realize I’m more than my accomplishments and gymnastics which I never truly believed before.” Biles just went on to win the bronze medal in the individual beam event, with many, including Taylor Swift, using social media to applaud her strength in honoring her mental health needs.
With 4.2 billion people in the world using social media, according to research conducted by Statista, the internet community has become a valuable tool in spreading mental health awareness.
A study done by The Journal of Education and Health Promotion revealed that the use of social media to promote mental health awareness is an effective way to communicate with a large number of people at once. After analyzing three different mental health campaigns over a five month period on Facebook and Instagram, the study concluded that “There is an increasing trend in the awareness of mental health with the effective use of digital media as a platform for disseminating information.” It also found that online support systems seem to increase people’s willingness to participate in mental health awareness, which is why many people are calling this a movement.
An interview in The Conversation found that 20 women prefer the online support community they’ve built on Instagram rather than in-person communities due to the lack of available resources. One woman interviewed stated that “It provides validation for things that are not necessarily addressed in therapy or that I feel I can’t talk about with the people around me.”
These support communities are growing, with the number of platforms available making it easy for anyone to advocate and share mental health resources. Whether it be @therapyghost discussing therapy in-depth on TikTok, @letstalk.mentalhealth creating guides to help people navigate their mental health on Instagram or @Mentalhealthadvocacy creating a comprehensive list of mental health resources on Linktree, there are many ways in which people can spread mental health awareness on social media to their communities.
Aryelle Carter, a college student and foster youth advocate, told us that her Linktree helps promote mental health resources for her community. “I love the fact that people can click the link in my bio and have a handful of resources that could help better their mental health.”
"I love the fact that people can click the link in my bio and have a handful of resources that could help better their mental health."
Carter understands the importance of catering to a wide range of people, saying that her resources varied as everyone has different needs. “I have everything from questionnaires to tests to different therapists that people can reach out to. I try to include different links since everyone’s journey is different, and I encourage people to make use of their social media since it can help make a positive impact upon other people.”
Dr. Jennifer Mullan of Decolonizing Therapy is also part of the virtual revolution of emotional healing, and her 150,000 followers on Instagram are full of gratitude. Hosting conversations surrounding mental health on Instagram and sharing webinars and resources on Linktree, the psychologist, teacher, writer and self-proclaimed “Rage Doctor” provides a space for her audience to engage, inquire, reflect and learn, all in the name of self-improvement and wellbeing.
Like many other mental health professionals, Dr Mullan’s work is creating a strong ripple throughout the online community, with dedicated followers sharing their appreciation for her resources in the comments. “I never realized this is generational colonization-related trauma until I came across your account. Thank you,” one user noted on a post of Mullan’s, while another stated, “I can’t articulate the validation felt reading this post. I’m at a loss for words.”
Social platforms are also providing the room for more niche approaches to mental health, such as combining pop culture with psychology. Dr. Monica O’Neal, a Harvard Clinical Psychologist and cast member on Bravo TV’s Camp Getaway, tells us that using Clubhouse, via her room “The Psychology of Bravo,” has given her a platform to discuss layered topics like mental health while still being able to express her love for pop culture.
“I employ the lens of psychology and mental health when discussing topics such as TV/film and current events.” Because of Dr. O’Neal’s Clubhouse rooms, she has fostered a community that trusts the content she makes as it relates to nuanced conversations surrounding BIPOC intersubjectivity and mental health. “I get to put on my academic, clinical, and personal hats. Interacting with folks but engaging them in thoughtful conversations where they can see themselves and the world differently.”
With an abundance of resources on platforms like Linktree, Instagram and TikTok, social media has helped revolutionize and destigmatize the conversations around mental health. Content creators are curating mental health conversations around specific communities and proving that mental health issues are not monolithic, enabling people to find solace with the communities that foster support for their mental health needs.
As the number of people engaging in a variety of online platforms continues to grow, so will the resources and accounts generating crucial conversations surrounding mental health.
If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, there are resources that can help. Get help now.
About the author: Jonathan Chandler is a freelance writer living in Los Angeles, California.