Mental Health Awareness: The Power of a Hashtag

Around the world, more than 2 billion social media accounts keep people connected to their communities and larger movements. Not everyone thinks of these platforms as opportunities for positive change, but through campaigns such as ALS awareness and cancer research, they have the potential to make an incredible impact. Drawing inspiration from these examples, Louise Gornall, the founder of the #InShadowSelfie movement, saw an opportunity to spread mental health awareness through Instagram and Twitter.

Louise’s movement started when the U.K. government decided to limit unemployment benefits for individuals who exhibited mental health issues that do not accompany a physical impairment. In other words, individuals with serious diagnoses such as schizophrenia, bipolar affective disorder, and clinical depression were deemed fit to work and lost a portion of their benefits. According to the BBC, more than 2,300 people died after having their benefits revoked between 2011 and 2014.

When Louise read about this policy change’s tragic consequences, she knew they were reflective of a larger dilemma around mental health. As Louise states on her blog, 66 percent of girls and women between the ages of 17 and 21 feel awkward about having conversations around mental illness. She wanted to destigmatize conversations and reveal that suffering — even silent suffering — is something that should not invoke shame. As Louise recently shared with a fellow blogger, “I want this thing to grow so big that people see it, ask why, and learn what it’s all about. I don’t want people to feel afraid or isolated. I want mental health to be seen as suffering.” Her hope is that awareness evokes empathy and allows individuals with mental illnesses to seek support and know that they are not alone.

Louise’s efforts couldn’t have been more spot on. Her decision to use a shadow selfie as a metaphor for invisible suffering struck a chord, affecting thousands — if not hundreds of thousands — of people. The incredible array of #InShadowSelfie posts reveal that you never know what someone is going through, and that we must offer compassion above judgment. Although this kind of support cannot solve mental illness, it can contribute to feelings of acceptance and healing. Louise chose to use social media because snapping a selfie is free, takes just two minutes, and immediately sends a message of empathy throughout both local and global movements.

To check out the incredible impact of #InShadowSelfie and make your own contribution, simply search the hashtag on Twitter or Instagram. No doubt, you will feel inspired by the compassion and light that this blossoming campaign sheds on mental health awareness every day.

Image source: Flickr