I started working with a new client who had been struggling with severe anxiety for over a year. When I asked what finally brought them to therapy, they said, “Instagram just wasn’t enough anymore.” They explained that they had been using the social media platform to alleviate their symptoms of anxiety by following certain accounts and hashtags.*
Initially, Instagram’s sense of community helped them feel less alone.
In fact, using Instagram to cope helped just enough to tide my client over so they could keep going about their life. The symptoms were still just underneath the surface, unaddressed. It took a scary panic attack and a loved one’s intervention to make the decision to come to therapy. Now, they can’t believe how much time they wasted feeling terrible by not seeking treatment sooner.
It is not a replacement for seeking help from a qualified mental health professional. But that’s exactly what’s happening and what some are media outlets are low-key suggesting. As more therapists take to social media to destigmatize mental health and market their services, people are using the content they’re sharing for therapeutic purposes, not educationally as most of the creators intended.
It’s creating quite a catch-22.
Online content is normalizing mental health, which is great. But it also offers a band-aid that makes people feel better in the short-term, but there are several problems with this. First and foremost, the deeper concerns that are causing someone to struggle remain. Without the right support, they’ll fester and worsen.
It also creates a false expectation about therapy.
That post was exactly the kind of eye-opening wisdom you needed right at that moment. But anyone that’s been to therapy can tell you that, while helpful, it’s not necessarily instant relief. Each session is not filled with perspective-changing insights. Instead, it’s a bunch of small steps that add up slowly. The therapist will help you, but you also have to help yourself by practicing your new skills and strategies daily. Feeling better takes consistent effort and dedication.
Instagram fosters disconnected connection.
Many people that seek therapy will say they felt like the only one struggling with a certain feeling. So the allure of seeing many others sharing similar difficulties and communicating with them on Instagram is clear. But online connection is no substitute for real, human interaction. Before starting therapy my client was spending about three hours per day, seeking to feel better. That’s not connection, though. That’s numbing and dissociation masquerading as relief.
But people are still going to turn to Instagram for mental health.
Here are some points for you to consider when you’re showing up in mental health communities online.
- What you post is open for public consumption. Nothing is confidential.
- What you post may get misunderstood, negative replies, etc. and leave you feeling worse.
- Sending an Instagram therapist a DM doesn’t make them your therapist.
- If you’re having thoughts of harming yourself or someone else, please call 911 or go to your nearest hospital emergency room.
Also, here are ten IG accounts that do a great job of promoting mental health awareness ethically. While many of them use their accounts to market their clinical services, businesses, events, etc. you won’t see them doing so in a gross salesy way. And no, mine isn’t included in this list. (IG and I broke up. We had a toxic relationship.) In no particular order…
If the Instagram accounts you follow have made you realize that you’re ready to start therapy, then bravo! Try to find a local mental health professional that shares some of the characteristics that you resonate with in your favorite IG accounts. Good ways to do this are checking out their website or reading their profiles on directories like Psychology Today and Good Therapy.
*This scenario is a mix of statements from several clients that I’ve worked with. (very small font)
If you’re interested in learning more about our therapists, you can read their bios here. And you can call us at (305) 501-0133 or click here to schedule a free 20-minute Clarity Consult .