Honesty online opens mental health conversation

OLIVIA SIVA

We all know it, but we don’t often talk about it; posts to social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram can create a posed, edited, unrealistic snapshot of an individual’s life.

Mikayla Kersten

Twenty-year-old Gold Coast local, Mikayla Kersten, is out to change the superficial “social media reality” by posting candidly about mental health. Photo: Mikayla Kersten

 

This superficial “social media reality” is something that 20-year-old Gold Coast local, Mikayla Kersten, is out to change, by promoting candid posting across the platform.

Ms Kersten said like any 20 year old, she experienced highs and lows, and said her Instagram posts reflected this.

She said she posted smiling photos with her boyfriend and fun photos with friends, but also posted about her struggles with endometriosis and mental health.

It is this candid posting that has her working to break down the stigma surrounding mental health.

Kersten said this vulnerability online sparked at the peak of her struggle with mental health issues, in an effort to fight back against what could become a “silent killer”.

“I realised that if I didn’t open up, I was going to let my mental health kill me, and if was going to do that, then I knew that there were so many other people around me who would be willing to let it kill them, too,” Ms Kersten said.

Mikayla Kersten has battled with mental health since the beginning of her early adolescence, struggling with depression, anxiety, PTSD and suicide.

“The impact that mental health has had on my journey has been immeasurable,” she said.

“Depression, anxiety, PTSD and suicide have caused not only myself, but so many people close to me, so much pain,” she said

“Mental health has a moment-to-moment predictability to it; one second you’re fine and then you’re not, so it impacts everything.”

Ms Kersten’s experience with mental health is not unique.

Headspace reported in 2016 that a quarter of all young people in Australia aged 12 to 25 will experience a mental health issue.

Dr Paranee Sivapathasundaram, a practicing child psychiatrist with both inpatient and outpatient experience, emphasised the pressures of society and its effects on young people in 2019.

“Mental illness is an issue that will forever impact society, just like normal illness that goes without saying,” Dr Sivapathasundaram said.

“However, the scale of its impact right now is something which is immense,” he said.

“Young people especially are under an huge amount of pressure to look and act in certain ways, and this can be a huge lead to various mental health implications, such as anxiety, depression, [and] panic disorder.”

Like Mikayla Kersten, Headspace senior clinical advisor Nick Duigan said he believed the stigma surrounding mental health was a major contributor to the ongoing issue.

“Stigma surrounding mental health is still a huge issue and while there are many reasons why young people don’t seek help, stigma plays a major role,” Mr Duigan said.

“Fifty two per cent of young people who identified having a mental health issue in 2015/16 were embarrassed to discuss it with anyone, and 49 per cent were afraid of what others would think,” he said.

Mikayla Kersten’s candid use of social media is one step towards starting the conversation in hope of more openness surrounding mental health.

“The stigma is real, and it will continue to be until we change the conversation,” Ms Kersten said.

“It [mental health] is a big, scary issue, but it’s a lot less scary when you talk about it with someone, especially if you’re trying to understand it!”

Mikayla Kersten

Mikayla Kersten says the stigma surrounding mental health is real, and it will continue to be an issue until we change the conversation. Photo: Courtesy Mikayla Kersten

 

Mr Duigan encouraged conversation surrounding mental health and said it could be beneficial not only to those suffering, but to listeners, too.

“Spending time and getting to know people impacted by mental health issues, hearing their stories and understanding their experiences helps to change negative attitudes, reduce fear and social distance,” he said.

Ms Kersten said her vulnerability on social media had not only massively impacted her life, but she said she was surprised by just how much impact a post to her small online audience had.

“Vulnerability saved my life,” she said.

“Ever since the day I started to open up on social media and [on] my blog in high school, I have received dozens upon dozens of messages of people opening up more than they ever have, because vulnerability truly just breeds more vulnerability,” she said.

“I’ve lost some very close people to suicide and I feel such a need for people to understand that when you speak, you spark change, when you open up, you create a tunnel out for so many behind you.”

“I need people to know my truth so maybe they can find theirs on this journey.”

Ms Kersten said education was a key in combatting the stigma associated with mental illness.

“Mental health should be treated just as physical health; a work in progress, not necessarily something that can be ‘cured’ using the same methods as the last person, something you need to work on every single day, for yourself,” she said.

“And that’s what I don’t think the wider community yet understands, how illness, mental or physical, are and should be allowed to be a constant project at work.”

Mr Duigan also said he recognised the role of education in a brighter future in terms of the attitude surrounding mental health.

“A key measure to combat stigma associated with mental health is education,” he said.

“This means providing information and knowledge about mental health issues and the benefits of seeking help and seeking help early.”

Ms Kersten said she encouraged all social media users to try using their platforms in a more real way in an effort to contribute to helping each other.

“Spread awareness, especially on social media,” she said.

“It doesn’t always have to be happy snaps; humans are meant to feel emotion,” she said.

If you are suffering from depression, anxiety or any other mental health issues, or you’re worried about someone else and feel that urgent professional support is needed, contact your local doctor or contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636.

For more information, visit headspace.org.au.

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