The advent of the internet and the rise of chat forums and social media are helping to break the stigma surrounding mental health in Ireland. That’s the view of Boards.ie co-founder Tom Murphy, whose ‘Let’s all laugh at people with depression’ post last year struck a chord online with 5,000 people telling their stories.
Murphy, who also founded Adverts.ie, is a well-known commentator on internet, social media and digital rights issues. He has also struggled with depression himself and was motivated to comment in the aftermath of the Kate Fitzgerald controversy.
I spoke to Murphy in advance of the ReachOut.com Technology for Wellbeing Conference in Dublin today and tomorrow.
Murphy said he felt there has been a groundswell of activity online in recent years in terms of people campaigning to destigmatise depression and discussion on social media.
“I wanted to challenge people to talk about mental health.
“But there’s no middle ground. There are times in everybody’s lives when they don’t feel great. If people talked more there would be less stigma, less isolation.
“Ironically, what happens instead is we deflate the issue and when it becomes a lesser problem in most people’s eyes, people who are suffering tend to isolate themselves.
“People shouldn’t have to have a build-up of loneliness or be allowed to believe things will never get better. Things are never as bad as they seem.”
Murphy said he titled his post provocatively and deliberately. “It was time to stop pretending. It takes one person to shout stop for everyone to listen. It struck a chord and the thread is still going with more and more people adding stories.
“A lot of people out there thought they were going crackers but now because they can communicate online there is the ability to support each other through tough times.
“A lot of people wrote to me personally online and through social media – realising they weren’t the only ones to feel that way was important. A lot of people felt that way.”
Murphy said his message has been to always talk about mental well-being. “Technology can play a big part in ending the stigma and getting people to open up and communicate.
“We need to stop ‘othering’ people at various stages of mental health. People who are depressed are not psychopaths. Fear brings anger, making them ‘other’.”
Murphy points out that there is a higher rate of suicides in Ireland than actual car deaths. “Yet we have Gay Byrne out there on radio and TV and on billboards warning about road deaths.
“In Ireland a lot of suicides are being recorded as ‘misadventure’ – coroners are not recording them as suicides, yet of the ones that are recorded amount to a higher number than car accidents.
“We have ads for slow down, don’t drink and drive, but when looking at the impact of the problem, suicide is a bigger issue yet in this country we are cutting mental health services.
“We need to find more innovative solutions to problems. We need to find more efficient ways to reach out and use technology to alleviate the impact of mental health spending cuts.”
He said the impact of social media has been revolutionary in some respects. “When people go online they can go into a protected space and hear 50 other people say the same thing from around the country and get support, more powerful interaction.
“They can see and read similar stories and realise they are not so much different from everybody else’s and can tell their own stories. And that’s a powerful thing.
“With social media we now have the capacity to have mass communications. It’s possible to reach out, even in a small environment and have a many-to-many conversation,” Murphy said.