Acknowledging mental illness one social media update at a time
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Instagram has gained a reputation for being notoriously deceptive when it comes to portraying the “everyday lives” of its users. This isn’t surprising considering most people would rather broadcast the happy, sanitized version of their lives than the difficult moments that inevitably make us all human. However familiar we are with this façade, it’s hard not to feel lonely when scrolling through dozens of friend-populated portraits in an endless maze of all-around good times.
Now, Instagram wants to offset that loneliness factor by offering a tool to help users struggling with mental health issues. It’s simple, but it could be effective at acknowledging cries for help and ultimately saving lives. If you stumble upon a friend or stranger’s post about self-harm, an eating disorder, suicidal thoughts, or other dangerous situations, you’re now one button away from anonymously reporting that post to Instagram. From there, administrators will send that person a message saying: “Someone saw one of your posts and thinks you might be going through a difficult time. If you need support, we’d like to help.”
Once alerted, the app directs the flagged user to three different options for getting help: talking to a friend, contacting a helpline, or getting tips and support. To get the language right for the support page, Instagram enlisted the help of mental health organizations like National Eating Disorders Association and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Instagram’s Chief Operating Officer Marne Levine explained the reasoning behind this update, telling Cosmopolitan,
“We listen to mental health experts when they tell us that outreach from a loved one can make a real difference for those who may be in distress. At the same time, we understand friends and family often want to offer support but don’t know how best to reach out. These tools are designed to let you know that you are surrounded by a community that cares about you, at a moment when you might most need that reminder.”
The tool also extends to users who don’t get flagged for posts about self-harm. Should you look up a banned hashtag—like #thinspo, for example—you’ll get directed to the same list of tools and resources. Hopefully, by simply acknowledging these issues and offering ways to get help, Instagram can be part of a culture shift that treats mental illness with urgency and empathy.