By Margot Harris
After Madeline Stoiber returned home from a brief hospitalization due to a manic episode and bout of psychosis in January of 2022, she wanted to reconnect with friends, family and acquaintances — and she hoped to explain some of her behavior from the past three months.
“Essentially I wanted to tell everyone the status of my recovery, because they were worried,” she said. “I just wanted to let them know I was ok.”
So, in February, Stoiber began posting videos on Instagram. In her posts, she documented her reactions to her initial episode and subsequent hospitalization. Notably, she embraced the moments of humor and levity in her experience; she laughed recollecting how she believed she would become a pop star, and, in one video, shared “the weirdest things [she] did in psychosis,” including telling a couple she could talk to their dog (and the dog had a “really good life”). But she also addressed the pain, fear and shame that can accompany a traumatic mental health episode. Perhaps that’s why, months later, she has cultivated a strong following on both Instagram and TikTok, where her videos now receive hundreds of thousands of views and enthusiastic comments.
By processing her experience with a social media audience, Stoiber is slowly finding her way back and changing the conversation surrounding serious mental illness.
“I was I was so unbelievably lost. I was so depressed,” she explained. “I was so horrified because I had to face the aftermath of two and half months of doing things that do not reflect me at all. My videos started as me trying to ‘get ahead of the narrative,’ but they became a chance to own my story.”
Louise Rumball, an entrepreneur originally from the UK, also began her journey on Instagram, sharing the highlight reel of her life — which she admits was “fake.” However, after beginning therapy and getting the mental health support she needed, she decided to pivot; she began posting about her real experience and started sharing the most helpful advice she received in therapy. Now, she offers (therapist-approved) tips in TikTok videos that rack up thousands of views — and she even hosts a podcast with her own therapist.
Stoiber and Rumball are just two of many content creators who have taken to social media to share their experience with mental illness and treatment. Through confessional videos, whimsical TikTok trends and informative tips, they have harnessed the power of shortform video to explain their own experience, challenge the stigma surrounding mental illness and shed light on the realities of the mental health care system.
Here are some of their best practices when sharing your story online.
Rumball notes that her social media impact — and engagement from her followers — really began when she started posting about her “real life” and challenges, from her sobriety journey to navigating family dynamics to dealing with toxic relationships. Her transparency, she believes, is the reason her content resonates with so many people.
“I started addressing topics that I never really knew how to talk about,” she said. “And I thought I was the only one. But once I realized that other people felt the same way, I decided that I could cultivate a space of openness, honesty and love.”
Stoiber agrees that transparency is key — with some limits.
“I’m pretty much an open book,” she said. “But, of course, I make sure to protect the identities of other people involved and to be respectful of people’s privacy.”
Protecting yourself, Stoiber says, is also critical when sharing personal stories online. She has chosen to keep certain “very private” aspects of her journey to herself. Because, ultimately, while honesty and transparency matter, protecting your own peace is equally important.
Accurate representation of certain mental illnesses and symptoms, Stoiber points out, are missing from most forms of media. So, sharing one’s own story online is a unique opportunity to address misconceptions and put a friendly face to conditions that have been misrepresented, feared and shamed.
She admits she was grappling with her own shame when she began posting videos, but her outlook changed quickly.
“The more I spoke about it, the more my own shame went away,” she said.
Stoiber’s story also challenged the shame other people with mental health conditions were feeling. “I hear from people who have gone through the same thing, and they can barely speak about it. They don’t want to remember it,” she said. “But hearing my experience made them feel less alone.” Ultimately, she believes, calling out the stigma, judgment and resulting shame is the way to move forward.
“Speaking to the stigma ends the stigma,” she said.
While a growing discussion in online spaces about mental health can be educational and transformative, content creators need to ensure they are sharing accurate information, and that they are not representing themselves as mental health professionals.
Rumball is always careful to collaborate with the trained experts when she shares information with her audience. She does not want to encourage people to diagnose themselves and others without professional intervention — rather, she hopes to help people acknowledge their struggles and feel seen.
“We're all just made up of so many different parts that shape us in certain ways,” she explained. “I like to make sure I’m not guiding people to a diagnosis because that's not my job.”
While many creators like Stoiber don’t expect to reach a wide audience, they are given an opportunity to build a community of people needing support and camaraderie — thanks to the nature of social media and viral videos.
“It started with just people I knew. I had no intention of creating viral content,” she recalled. “But then I started getting comments from strangers and now I’ve made virtual connections with people who have had similar experiences. And I want to keep doing that.”
Margot is a Content Manager with the Marketing and Communications department at NAMI.
Note: This article was originally published in the Fall 2022 Issue of the Advocate.
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