Abigail Cox, a mass communication major, is striving to change the very essence of how mental illness is displayed on social media. Her presentation, “Beautiful Suffering Turned to Dark Dismay: Glorification of Mental Illness on Social Media,” was presented at Piedmont College’s 2020 Symposium and shines a light on an issue that people deal with every day.
“Many college students suffer from a mental illness, whether their family and friends are aware of it or not, and social media can be an outlet where they can express what they are feeling,” she said.
Her research shows that people who do not suffer from these mental illnesses often use the illness for attention. Not only do people with mental illnesses tolerate direct harassment from the people online, but they suffer a belittlement of the sickness that they do have.
Dr. Melissa Tingle, mass communications professor and adviser for Cox’s research project, said that she has seen social media used on both ends of the spectrum. “Sometimes, they are constructively written and helpful to others, and some smack of false humility and pity that feels like the individual is seeking attention,” Tingle said.
Cox has spent eight weeks working intensively on this project to make sure that she has done her duty to present the correct message. She decided to do this topic because she wants “to inspire positivity online, as well as spreading awareness of the harmful effects of glorifying mental illness to seem ‘relatable.'”
An example given in her presentation is someone saying that “they are completely depressed because they can’t go to a party.” This is what she defines as “beautiful suffering” — the way that people on social use terms affiliated with mental disorders as a way to describe a disappointment or a certain mood.
Cox said she applied concepts from her mass communication theory and research class in her project. Her goal is to show that people with legitimate illnesses are being belittled, emphasizing that their mental health disorder is just a personality trait, and not as dangerous as it is. She also hopes that people will change the way people they use social media.
Cox said that people can begin to express how they legitimately feel without using somebody else’s mental illness to benefit themselves. They can express their sadness without belittling a mental illness.
“I would love to erase the stigma of mental illness around the globe,” she said. “Every individual on Earth has their difficulties that they face every day, and for a lot of people, including myself, that includes anxiety and depression.”