Social Media Is Not Always A Healthy Place – Protecting Yourself Online

This Community is Built by People Dealing With Mental Illness

This community consists of people struggling with mental illness, including all the community’s creators. It is crucial to remember that the creators you watch (or read) are dealing with mental illness and will be affected by it. They are on that journey just like everyone else and are not yet fully healed – because nobody is ever fully recovered. Social media is deceptive because people only post what they want and when they want to, so what you see is exceptionally curated. Even if they do their best to be authentic, it won’t accurately represent real life. You’re going to have a warped perspective of who these creators are, and often, that warped perspective will imagine them to be “better” than they are because people naturally want to share when they are stable – as they should. 

That said, sometimes your favorite creators will share things when they’re unstable and shouldn’t be sharing. That may not be clear, though, because the mask of social media is deceptive. It’s easy to be fooled by a smile, a filter, and a familiar face you trust. It’s important to remember that the creators you trust are also struggling and might not always be 

“right”. They’ll make mistakes and might be in the middle of an episode, even though you might not know it. That is why paying attention to the content you’re receiving is important, not just the face you trust. You need to think for yourself and know that you can disagree with someone even if you’re a “fan” of theirs – which takes us into our next segment – parasocial relationships.

What is a Parasocial Relationship, and Why is it a Particular Issue in Our Community?

A parasocial relationship is when a person imagines having a relationship with someone they don’t know, such as a celebrity or an influencer. Parasocial relationships in social media are particularly relevant and dangerous, especially in mental health communities discussing intimate and severe things like trauma. It’s easy for people to develop parasocial relationships with a creator who speaks to them about things no one has ever discussed. They feel understood for the first time and like the creator is talking directly to them, like they’re their friend. 

Let’s say a creator responds to someone’s comments a few times, interacts with them on live streams a few times, and recognizes their username – maybe even has a little inside joke with them. Now, that person may develop a full parasocial relationship with that creator and view them as someone they know when they don’t. They’re not friends – they’re not a part of that person’s life. The creator knows nothing about them beyond a random username, a profile picture, and what they happen to comment on – not what they look like or what they do for work. But the commenter feels they know them because all their mental health content was talking right to them.

Avoiding parasocial relationships is a responsibility that falls on the shoulders of both the viewers and the creator. The viewers should refrain from obsessing over a creator or getting to that level. The creator should understand that they have power and a level of responsibility, especially when talking about intense, traumatic, and deeply personal things, to not feed into parasocial relationships when talking to a vulnerable audience base. 

Understanding That People Make Mistakes (And Not Needing an Apology Video to See That)

It can be very tempting to agree with your favorite creators because they’re your favorite. We want to support the people we like, and that’s natural. Sometimes, though, we need to be able to put those things aside and be able to look at things critically. People make mistakes and do things that aren’t okay, especially when we’re talking about a community of mentally ill people. They will make mistakes and have bad judgment calls sometimes. It’s okay to recognize that. What’s ethical as a viewer and what’ll be best for your mental health is to keep your critical thinking as you watch videos. Don’t just automatically agree because they’re your “fav”. Instead, be able to watch a video from your favorite creator and say, “Wow, you know what? They missed the mark there. That wasn’t okay.”, or, “Wow, I disagree with this one. That doesn’t make them a bad person. But I don’t think they’re right”. It doesn’t mean you have to stop watching their content. People can disagree, people can make mistakes, and people can change. But thinking critically from the start and recognizing when you differ in opinion is much healthier. Don’t hop on a bandwagon just because you want to agree with someone because they’re them. They shouldn’t have to make an apology video for you to realize that you shouldn’t have supported their statement in the first place or that you bent your morals just because you wanted to agree with your favorite creator.

Spotting Red Flags

Reminder: Just because you see a red flag doesn’t mean that this is a harmful or dangerous person. Someone can behave in a way that sends up a red flag for you, which can make you more cautious about the particular advice they gave surrounding a topic, but that doesn’t mean you have to stay away from them as a person or think they’re evil. That is why it’s essential to spot red flags, though, because you need to discern when something isn’t quite right. Suppose you eat up everything a creator says (especially one who’s mentally ill and will get things wrong sometimes), and they’re giving mental health and life advice. In that case, you could be taking some bad advice directed toward your mental health, which could have profound and detrimental effects.

Spotting red flags with anyone is a vital skill for survivors of trauma and abuse to learn. More often than not, survivors have been essentially “trained” by their abusers to be more easily manipulated and are, therefore, more susceptible to future manipulation than others. It can be challenging for survivors to spot red flags, especially when looking at creators who are mentally ill but are still being put on pedestals and wielding a lot of power. The viewers need to be able to spot red flags if and when they come up. Here are some tips on how to do that:

Identifying Red Flags

    • Trust your gut. If something feels off or uncomfortable, pay attention to that.

    • Look for inconsistencies. If what someone says doesn’t match up with their actions, that can be a red flag. For example, if they claim to value honesty but they lie to you, or if they claim to support you, but they regularly put you down or criticize you, those are examples of inconsistent behaviors that could be red flags.

    • Look out for controlling behavior. That is a massive red flag if someone tries to control your actions or decisions. Controlling behaviors can include telling you what to wear, trying to control your schedule, or observing/monitoring your communication with others.

    • Watch how they treat others. If someone regularly mistreats or disrespects others, that’s a red flag. How someone treats others can be a good indicator of their character.

    • Pay attention to signs of manipulation. It is a red flag if someone tries to manipulate or guilt-trip you. Manipulative behavior can include playing the victim, using emotional blackmail, or gaslighting.

    • Watch their response to criticism. If someone becomes defensive or aggressive when faced with criticism, that is a red flag. Healthy individuals can accept constructive criticism and work to improve themselves. If someone reacts with hostility, they may have deeper issues.

Identifying red flags is vital in protecting yourself and building healthy relationships. By trusting your gut, looking for inconsistencies and signs of controlling behavior, watching how they treat others, paying attention to signs of manipulation, and watching their response to criticism, you can identify any potential issues early on and make informed decisions about how to proceed. Remember, red flags do not need to be dealbreakers; they’re just warnings for you to look out for – a signal that something there is not entirely healthy and might need some work. Identifying that early on allows you to make that informed decision on whether or not you want to put in that work or not with that person. 

Red flags to look for when engaging with mental health social media creators

    • Offering “Quick fix” solutions. Mental health is a complex issue, and there are rarely quick fixes. If creators offer simple fixes to complex problems, this could be a sign that they’re oversimplifying the issue or trying to use sensationalism to gain followers or build their brand.

    • They encourage you to stop taking medication without consulting your doctor or don’t mention (or seem to care about) consulting your doctor. If an influencer encourages you to stop taking a prescribed medication for mental health conditions without consulting your doctor first, that’s an extremely dangerous red flag. Always consult your doctor before making changes to your medications.

    • They claim expertise without credentials. Be cautious about any influencer who presents as an expert on mental health without formal training or qualifications. It’s important to seek advice from qualified professionals. Patients have valuable things to add to the conversation, but it’s crucial to be clear that that’s the standpoint they’re coming from – the patient standpoint, not that of an expert in the field. If they claim expertise and are not qualified, that’s a red flag.

    • They promote unproven treatments or therapies. Researching treatments thoroughly and consulting medical professionals before trying new treatments is very important. These creators may be doing a brand deal or partnership – trying to boost their brand by promoting these treatments – which could be very dangerous.

    • They prioritize engagement over genuine help. Some creators may prioritize likes, engagement, and shares over genuine help for their audience. Be cautious of creators who seem more focused on building their brand/social presence/image than helping their followers with mental health issues.

A General Guide to Online Safety

Of course, every situation and scenario will be different, but this is a guideline for online safety.

    • Be mindful of oversharing: Be careful of what you share on social media platforms and what you share with people you meet online. Think twice before sharing things like your location, routines, place of work, etc. If someone messages you and starts asking you for personal information like this or immediately asks for information like your age, gender, etc, that can be a red flag.

    • Trust your gut: If something feels off with an online friendship or too good to be true, it’s important to take a step back and reevaluate the situation.

    • Be selective with online friends: Take time before considering a stranger online a personal friend. Please do everything you can to verify their identity to the best of your ability.

    • Utilize the block feature: If someone is making you uncomfortable or you no longer wish to communicate with them, block them. If they have been abusive, report them.

Developing Online Friendships in a Mental Health/Neurodivergent-Centered Space

Finding friends online but not letting those replace your “IRL” friends.

Finding people who can relate to your experiences and understand you more than others you’ve talked to is beautiful and valuable. However, be aware of those friendships taking over or replacing other in-person relationships. That is especially relevant if you realize that all of your friendships that you regularly engage in are online friendships. Online friendships are precious, but it is also incredibly valuable to have friendships with people in person. It can be easy to let yourself not invest energy in seeking those in-person friendships when you find people that understand a part of you that perhaps those others might not “get”. Remember that spending time with different types of people is important for growth and keeping yourself comfortable and feeling safe in the world. If you can’t spend time with a friend who may not fully understand what you’re going through but they love and support you, how will you go out in the world and feel comfortable around strangers? 

Don’t restrict your friendships to people struggling with the same things.

Aside from the online vs. offline topic, it is vital to have relationships with people with different life experiences. Suppose you are struggling with severe mental illness – it may sometimes feel comforting to relate to others who struggle. But, it is a wonderful idea to try and form connections with people who are more stable when possible. Surrounding yourself only with others struggling – especially all with the same disorder – is often a recipe for disaster. While support groups can be wonderful, make sure to diversify your support system outside of these support groups and don’t have your friend pool stem solely from these groups. 

Media’s Representation of Overt DID

The ratio is wrong: Feeling like ‘My DID isn’t bad enough/isn’t like all the other DID I see’

It’s incredibly important to remember that the things you see in the media and online not only can often be incredibly exaggerated, but also even if people are being genuine on things like social media, the algorithm and things that people will be interested in is going to naturally boost the more ‘controversial’ and ‘attention grabbing’, extreme and overt presentations of a disorder, which for DID is NOT the standard. 93% of patients with DID have covert symptoms and if you don’t present the way you see it represented in media or online, you are not alone. It is simply more interesting in hollywood for them to show overt presentations because that sells better and tells a clearer story that an audience can track more easily, and people online will gravitate more towards stories and videos that are more overt/’extreme’ in their eyes. This unfortunately gives DID a more radical view in the public eye, and also makes many systems feel like they’re not normal, since the average DID patient will not present in the way that most of the representations you see in media and online are so extreme and so not representative of the average patient. 

It is normal to have one alter front most of the time unless a big trigger comes up. It is normal to have little to no communication. It is normal for things to progress slowly over time. It is normal for your alters to mask as you and to not have extreme and different presentations. It is normal to see the media around DID and for it to make you feel isolated and alone – many people try to conform to it and it ends up hurting their healing. Remember that media is media. It’s not real life. The majority of DID cases are covert and are figuring things out day by day and you can do it too. 

Last updated on October 12, 2023
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