When Mental Health Becomes Content: “We Don’t Need ‘Influencers’, We Need Psychiatrists” | health and wellness

He finds his reflection on his cell phone, but what he sees there is very different from what he sees in the mirror every morning. And this makes him angry. Beatriz López, a 47-year-old Valencian, is troubled by how people talk about depression on social media. How does he make light of a subject that has had a direct impact on him for 30 years? “So neither I nor my family knew what was happening to me,” he explains in a telephone conversation. Depression was a taboo and people shunned those who dared to break it. Were. He admits that in this time, mental illnesses have gained attention: “There is more discussion, but not necessarily better,” he says. “Now it’s being romanticized.”

Normalizing the conversation about mental health issues is a good thing, but there’s a big difference between personalized, expert-led conversation — and turning it into social media content. Use it to attract attention, like and money. “Depression is a disease that should be treated by a specialist,” Lopez summarizes. “We do not need influencer“We need psychiatrists.”

But this will have to wait. Lopez went to the Social Security doctor a few weeks ago to make an appointment with a psychologist. He has given it to them for April. Spain has six public psychologists per 100,000 inhabitants, three times less than the European average, and 11 psychiatrists per 100,000 people, almost five times less than Switzerland (52) and France (23), Germany (27) o Half that of the Netherlands. 24). In this context, mental health content creators are filling the health gap.

tiktok video with tags #mental health Has been viewed approximately 44 billion times. This may be good news, but the important thing is not how much, but how it is said. In recent months, many accounts have moved from raising awareness to offering guidance and entertainment. there is influencer Mental health, untrained people who have found an expanding market niche. “It’s fashionable to talk about mental health,” admits psychiatrist and podcaster Luis Muino. understand your mind, “And I think it’s important to know it, to conceptualize it. We’ve gone from considering mental health a taboo to the opposite: it’s talked about, sometimes, too much. Because when something is fashionable, there are people who can use their experience to gain attention, prove themselves right and say, ‘Hey, I have this too.’ “It’s kind of thought that it’s something that gives status, that it’s cool.”

Issey Moloney is one influential person 18-year-old British woman who has over seven million followers on TikTok. There, she combines videos about her beauty routine or her travels with jokes that relate eating pasta to depression or lists like “signs that indicate you may have bipolar disorder.” In the 24-second video, she breaks down crying while looking at the camera and lists sensations such as “feeling empty” or “having very short and intense relationships.” Among the comments, many users accused her of “spreading distortions about being a teenager.” Borja Hiriarte is a Chilean content creator who has two and a half million followers on TikTok. One of his most viewed videos is a video in which you can read the message “Your little joke ruined my emotional stability” while he was pretending to cry. In others, he offers advice on how to help your girlfriend if she has anxiety or “spot signs that your mental health is on the verge of collapse.” Both Hiriart and Moloney perform, demonstrating an emotional state with dramatic music and short phrases of only 10 words each. They adapt psychological diagnosis to TikTok format.

“The speed can be useful if you’re talking about a simple topic,” Muino explains, “There are bullets of information that can be given on TikTok. But the problem is that the content creator has to keep uploading videos, feeding their account, and it’s easier to analyze complex things in 30 seconds, like the body language profile of a person with depression. TikTok rewards videos that get millions of views. Social media is not designed to prioritize the most accurate content, but rather the content that provokes the strongest reaction. And depression sells.

In this way, topics that deeply affect those suffering from a diagnosed illness are preyed upon by content creators who know how to hit the key to virality. “Social networks often lack filters for the accuracy and quality of information, so it can be oversimplified,” says psychologist Maria Palau, an expert in anxiety management, who warns: “This can lead to self-diagnosis. Is.” Or incorrect self-treatment may occur. ,

self regulation

Without a legal framework, content creators have to self-regulate. That’s what Oscar Alonso did, after all. This 40-year-old Basque painter began sharing his weight loss process online. Hence his professional name: 72 kg. But gradually it turned towards mental health related content. “I speak from experience,” he explains in a telephone conversation, “I don’t want to be anyone’s doctor under any circumstances.” “I’m not a doctor, I’ve had no training in psychology, I’m just stating my case.”

Alonso knows his paintings connect with people who have gone through the same thing. He knows it’s a hot topic and that helps his creations go viral. But at the same time, you can’t isolate yourself from the global conversation, especially when it directly affects you. He tries to draw a moral line in addressing the topics that interest him without indulging in the pursuit of virility. “It’s a risk,” he admits. “We have to talk about it, but it can’t become a business. We must be careful so that, in a capitalist society where almost everything is sold, it does not become just another product.” Alonso, who recently completed an assignment for the Ministry of the Presidency, assures that we should not ignore the fact that this fashion “helps more people than it harms.”

Both Palau and Muino agree with this idea. Talking about mental health “makes people feel less alone in their experiences and knows that treatments exist,” Palau emphasizes. “Dissemination of information can promote awareness and education.” Furthermore, one despises only that which reaches Mainstream, Feminism has also been used to sell T-shirts or records, and this has not stopped – perhaps even encouraged – it from reaching more people and its changes from being more transversal.

And depression became pop

Mental health has entered the conversation and is not only reflected on social networks. According to Listen notes, a podcast search engine, more than 5,500 episodes have the word trauma in their titles. Amazon provides over 60,000 results when searching for books on mental health. In interviews, all kinds of actors, singers, and celebrities talk about how therapy has helped them become better people.

Philosopher and music producer Alex Kresovich has analyzed references to mental health in contemporary music. In a 2021 study, they noted that their presence in rap songs has increased in a surprising and sustained manner over the past 20 years. In another, he recorded a similar phenomenon in pop. According to Kresovich, Kanye West’s album 808 and heartbreakFrom 2008, there was a turning point. “It has become very common,” he said in a recent interview. new York Times, “Mental health is talked about so much in public that some neuroses, like depression, are almost romanticized.”

The public is not unaware of this fashion, which has finally permeated society. They’re not just anymore influencer The people who talk about it are the users. we are all. The social network is a loudspeaker that amplifies and distorts conversations. Nowadays it is much easier to make private feelings public and find people who validate them through conversation, hearts or thumbs-up. And it can become addictive. Only in this way can viral phenomena like the famous doll Elmo be understood. Sesame Street. His Twitter profile launched an innocent message last week: “Elmo is here, how are you?” He received thousands of dramatic responses that spoke of depression, anxiety and suicide attempts.

In this regard, American psychologist Scott Lyons has warned in his book. drama addict That the attention economy is creating a cycle of stress and heightened emotions. “We know from research that being more dramatic (on social media) gets more attention and more like, It’s a reinforcement,” he explains in an audio exchange. In this way, and without being fully aware, he explains, we become part of the problem. “60% of youth who use TikTok self-diagnose mental health problems,” he said. Many of those who do eventually join the conversation. Online, sharing experiences with other people suffering from similar diseases. Creating groups. “This is what we call a dramatic union. If we come together through a shared symptomatology and we feed off each other, it is difficult for us to later shed the label and the relationships derived from it,” he reflects.

This separates real and personal therapy from the reductionist, viral, and generic versions prevalent on the Internet. Talking about personal problems and concerns can have a therapeutic effect. But when the conversation takes place on social networks, it is enhanced by algorithms and distorted by the attention economy. And it can also have adverse effects. While we talk about depression and anxiety more than ever, suicide rates and mental health issues continue to rise. Much of this public conversation takes place on the Internet, which encourages vulnerable people to enter algorithmic wormholes to interact on this topic. And it doesn’t seem to be having any positive effect.

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