Hang On and Log Off
When you’re depressed, social media can be like alcohol – something that makes you feel good for a while, but can also ultimately make your situation a whole lot worse.
I should know. Depression has been with me my whole life and runs like a weed through my family tree. So, I’m acutely aware of its affect on my social media life, as well as the lives of people in my network.
Because of this, I tend to keep an ambient eye on things like the number of sad posts in a row from a Facebook friend or a hopeless tone woven into someone’s tweets.
I know it’s not my job to watch for people on social media who are in crisis. Nor is it my responsibility to reach out and touch base with them when I see them struggling.
But, I do it anyway.
I do it because I have walked in their shoes, so that makes them part of my family.
And there are a few people in this family who appear to be slipping close to the edge, right now. So, rather than writing a blog post about some business issue like I’m supposed to do, I felt like I needed to tackle this – sometimes taboo – topic, instead.
Social media is a wonderful thing…but often not for people in crisis. If that’s where you are at right now (or that’s a place you find yourself stuck at from time to time) here are some things I would suggest to help manage the journey.
(I’m no doctor, of course, so feel free to take these suggestions with a big fat grain of salt or suggest tips of your own in the comments.)
1. Hide the Pollyannas.
Some people have made a conscious choice to only share the good things in their lives in social media (even though, as a human, they undoubtedly have bad times too.)
There is nothing wrong with this choice. But, when you’re in a bad place, watching a feed of a chirpy Pollyanna all day can underscore your perception that there is something wrong with you and exacerbate your depression. So don’t feel bad if you need to take a break from all the unicorns and rainbows sometimes.
While your first instinct may be to un-follow or un-friend these folks, consider a response that will have less lasting reprecussions. In Facebook, you can choose to hide the status updates of these people for now. Or in Twitter, you can set up a list of people who don’t make you feel bad and follow that instead of your full feed.
2. Watch your level of transparency.
I read a research study recently that said that, of the reasons why people un-friend someone on Facebook, 23% said it was because someone’s postings were too depressing.
That’s kind of a sad statement, but a good fact to know, nonetheless.
Sometimes when you’re depressed, all of your posts can start to sound tragic, and – rather than acting as a call for help to your network – can have the reverse affect and actually drive people away. And right now, that’s not what you need.
So, take a step back and audit your feed. What is the tone of your most recent postings when viewed as a collection? Would you be concerned if you were friends with you? Are you managing your depression as well as you thought you were?
Use your audit as an opportunity to check in with yourself about where you’re at and whether or not you need to get some help. Or, if someone in your network reaches out to you because they are concerned about the things you’ve been posting lately, really listen to what they have to say. They might be seeing something you’re not willing to let yourself see, yet.
3. Think twice before engaging.
Many people (men, in particular) respond with anger instead of sadness when they’re depressed. For those people, social media can be like “whack a mole” game of irritants.
If you read a status update and your first response is an angry one, take a deep breath and think twice about posting a reply to it. The person on the receiving end has no idea that you’re having at a tough time. All they’re going to know is that they made a stupid joke and it went south very quickly with you.
Same thing is true of the Pollyannas. Instead of correcting their perception that “Today is just the BEST DAY EVER!,” just accept that the way they are communicating with the world is a choice (and likely a very deliberate one at that) and that your response (including not having one at all) can be a choice, too.
4. Step away from the computer.
One afternoon last week I read four soul-crushing pieces of national news in a row. And, while the information was important for me to know, the hate and anger it described was just too much to swallow all at once. So I took a big fat “the-world-is-going-to-hell-in-a-handbasket, but-I-don’t-have-to-go-with-it” break and logged off for the day.
When those times hit you, your best option is to shut off the computer and walk away, too. The world will continue at its feverish pitch without you, but the vast majority of that activity will add up to a whole lot of noise at the end of the day. Trust me, you won’t really miss anything.
When it comes down to it, investing in your health and happiness always trumps social chatter…ALWAYS.
5. Do not expect your network to save you.
Your social network is not solely comprised of health care professionals or people who love you, or even people who all have your best interest at heart.
It may feel like the right place to turn when things seem out of control, but it’s often not. In fact, because of the algorithms some networks use to organize their info, this could actually be a bad place to turn to for help.
For example, if you are posting a lot about having a hard time, not all of those posts are being seen by your whole network. It’s more likely that those posts are being served up to the people in your network that you talk with the most (like your chattiest friends or business contacts) instead of the people who may be able to help you the most (like your close friends or family).
So don’t put your health and happiness in the hands of some mathematical formula. Even if it’s the last thing you feel like doing, you need to move from passively sharing your sorrow to actively processing it using email, your phone or an in-person meeting. For example, you can…
- Email, DM or send a private message to a close friend and tell them you need their help.
- Sit down with a family member or a spouse and tell them that you need them to take the reigns and steer you out of the storm.
- Talk to a doctor. And if that doctor sucks and is a crappy listener (’cause yes, some are), talk to another one. And if that doctor prescribes some meds for you, take them even if you think they’re stupid (you can always stop later).
- Call your health insurance company and ask them to help you make an emergency appointment with a mental health professional in your network. (Yes, tell them it’s an emergency even if you are not suicidal.)
- If you are suicidal, call 911 or the U.S. suicide prevention hotline (1-800-273-8255) or take advantage of Facebook’s suicide prevention features.
Hopefully some of these suggestions will at least help you find some breathing room so you can take a step back and get some perspective on the situation.
No matter what path you choose or whom you reach out to, I wish you the best in your journey. And, I hope you find your way out of the well that it feels like you are downing in right now.
While I cannot promise that I’ll be there to catch you if you should fall, do know that I am reading what you write and will trying my best to hear you when you call for help.
Because that’s what family is for.
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