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Social Media Connections and Stigma

Earlier this week, I wrote a post on what I refer to as my “day job” blog about how admission offices do actually look at the social media profiles of prospective students. I went on to talk about something that I write about often, using social media to put your best professional image out so that when someone, in admissions or potential employers, etc. goes looking for you online, they see what you would like them to.

That sparked some thoughts about using social media in general, but especially when thinking about mental health or abuse issues. Obviously, I do believe that the internet and social media can be a great place to find support and connect with others, but we also have to be aware of how it might appear to others. As much as we would all love for there to be no stigma associated with mental health issues or being a survivor of abuse, the reality is that there are tons of people who would see that sort of “connection” and have a negative impression of you.

As a long time blogger and social media user, I’ve always been interested in how you could use those tools to show yourself off, or simply to connect with others who share your interest. I do it with that technical blog, my photography blog, and even have a little fun with a sports blog. I never really worry that someone who I might be interviewing with, or dealing with in my professional life, is going to read things there and make any assumptions about me. I also don’t really worry that having Facebook fans or Twitter followers for those interests is going to hurt them in any way.

This site, though, is different. I use my name, and I freely link from those site over here, making it very easy for anyone to know that I am a survivor of abuse, and have dealt with depression in the past. But that’s just it. For me, those issues are very much in my past. I’m not currently on medication or in therapy. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t still some people who will view me negatively because of that past, but truthfully, I don’t really want to work for them anyway. 😉

I have to be honest though, that’s easy for me to say. As I mentioned, my serious mental health issues are mostly in the past. That’s not to say I’m not at risk of a relapse, but I know what I need to do to avoid that, and have the proper plans and support in place to prevent it. Many others are still in the midst of dealing with similar issues, and are still struggling with healing from abuse, etc. That’s where things get difficult. If you’re currently being treated for depression, bipolar, or any number of potential mental health diagnosis, it is the kind of thing that you may not want current coworkers, or potential employers, to know. If they were to see that kind of information about you, they may start to wonder about what kind of sick time you’re going to take, or what kind of personality they might have to deal with, etc. Because that’s what society tells them about us.

That’s why I’ve always been a supporter of anonymous interaction online. It’s simply not a good idea for many people to be associated with survivor groups or mental health groups, whether that is due to professional risks, or actual safety risks from family members, etc. Not everyone can put themselves out publicly. That’s why it’s important, for those of us who can, to speak out. Depression, child abuse, and other issues shouldn’t exist solely in the conversations among anonymous people. The world needs to see real people, living real lives, if we are to end this stigma. But, as long as that stigma exists, there will always be risk to being connected to a blog like this one, and I understand that. As much as I appreciate everyone who follows this blog on Twitter, or Facebook, and who shares posts from here with their contacts, I also appreciate all the folks who only come here to read, or follow on an anonymous place like Tumblr, and don’t share.

The fact of the matter is, on a platform like Facebook, people can see what you “like”, and what pages you follow. There are valid reasons to be cautious about being connected to a stigma-related issue like child abuse, and I also suggest that you do consider what you like and how that may appear to other people who view your profile.

On the other hand though, I’ll say it again. If you can be safely and publicly connected to the issues of mental health and child abuse, and can share the information that matters, it’s imperative that you do. Do it for all of the survivors and sufferers who cannot. Make sure that those who do not publicly identify have, at the very least, knowledge that they are not alone, and maybe even that someone they know is also a survivor. Whether you read something here, from another blog, an article, something from a group, if it resonates with you, share it. I hope that I write/tweet/share enough good things that you’ll want to share them, but this isn’t about me. It’s about all those other folks who either can’t, or don’t have the strength to come forward.

Maybe, if enough people are doing that, we can also help eliminate the stigma that prevents them from connecting with others. Then everyone can be free to follow whatever pages, blogs, groups, etc, that they need to in order to find support.

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