Sunday, 4 May 2014

Please RT

     Thinking a bit about the 'X is missing, have you seen X? Please RT' stuff. I know it's done with love and compassion, we're trying to help...
     But for someone with mental health issues, it could be more than they can handle. The internet knows who they are and that they're 'mental'.
     In my darkest days, this would have made me worse. I'm not saying the RTs are a bad thing - they can be used to tell people they're loved >
     And cares about. But to know that thousands of people know you are in distress? not always helpful. Not a dig, BTW, just a thought.

     I tweeted this last night, and I’m a bit paranoid about it now. It was because, more and more often, I’m seeing tweets and retweets about people going missing. Usually with a photo, and their real name because, DUH, that’s how we recognise people. But increasingly, there are links to people’s twitter and facebook accounts, details of where they live and work, the fact that they have mental health issues, or are considered vulnerable. And I find that concerning.

     I went missing a few times when I was at my lowest. And trust me, I know the absolute fucking agony and torture I put my family through when they didn’t know where I was, what I was doing, fearing the absolute worst (which they were right to do). When they would have done anything to have me home safely. And each time I was brought home, I felt worse than I had before I vanished. Because I still felt terrible, still distressed, still vulnerable, but added to that swirling horror was a raging fire of shame for having worried them so much. I couldn’t meet their eyes, couldn’t talk to them, just wanted to hide away from them. I already felt unworthy of their concern, how dare I make them suffer?

     When I see tweets about someone who’s gone missing, like most people, I feel sympathy and compassion. For the person who is missing, for their friends and family feeling the unquantifiable pain of not knowing. And when I see that someone has been found safe and well, then there is relief and hope that they will recover. What makes me uneasy is that they will almost certainly discover that their face, their name, their personal details have been shared many, many times across social media by complete strangers with the very best of intentions. The intention of reaching out to the missing, telling them they are worthy, they are important, they matter, that total strangers they will never meet care enough to try and tell them to come home. It’s a very kind and empathetic thing to do.

     But. Imagine that you are in very great distress. So great that you do not want to exist any longer. That the only thing you can do is to try and let the world swallow you up in a crowd. You don’t want to cause your loved ones further distress, you just want to retreat from life. But you’re found, brought home and now the world (as it seems to you) knows this. For some people, this might be a comfort, a reassurance that they are deserving of love and care. But for me, it would have made me so much worse. Already filled with self-loathing and disgust, I would have hated myself more for causing so many people to worry, for complete strangers to take time to find me.

     And a further concern is that for many people with mental health issues, social media can be vital to maintaining contact with people. When I had my ATOS assessment on Wednesday, the amount of support I had on twitter was overwhelming and humbling. But crucially, I was the one who chose to disclose that information about myself, it wasn’t tweeted by someone else. I’m happy to talk about it, because I’m no longer ill. But if I was, and then found that thousands upon thousands of people knew about my state of mind that I hadn’t chosen to tell them… I could never come back to twitter again. And I would lose contact with a lot of people who have a very positive impact on my life.

     I’m not criticising people who tweet or post about missing people, please don’t misunderstand me. I guess I’m just trying to say have a little care in what and how you retweet or share things. If retweets get someone found, and saved from danger, then of course it is a good thing. I don’t question the motives of anyone who does it, it’s reassuring to know that I’m connected to people who care about people, even those whom they will never meet, or talk to. But after the missing person is found, they’re going to have to put their life back together, and it’s a painful and hard thing to do. I don’t want a kind gesture on twitter make it harder for them.


Daniel Sidrat said...

You come across as such a self assured and strong person in your writing.

I suppose the internet can be a positive and negative tool, hopefully in the next generation we can teach and learn how to address, inform and mitigate the negatives of our on line footprint.

Lucy Benedict said...

I'm more myself online than I am in real life ;-)

We're all still finding our way through the new frontier that is the internet, so to some extent we're making it up as we go along. I just hope it evolves into something more positive than negative, and that people don't blindly blunder into damaging when they're trying to help.

Sam said...

I don't really 'do' Twitter in the way that I feel I should as a blogger so I've never seen a post like the ones you describe. Its interesting to hear your point of view on it though, especially because part of my job involves putting missing persons reports on the Police National Computer and also having the tough job of attempting to assess whether or not to disclose certain 'mental health' history (where police got informed or involved) to potential employers of a CRB (now DBS) applicant. Everyone I work with knows that 'mental health' assessments are way more difficult to judge than historical crime assessments. As for re-tweets or sharing on FB - I don't like to get involved in those because it does just seem like its none of my business if I don't have any personal connection to the person in question and no idea of the circumstances behind their disappearance...

Lucy Benedict said...

That's a really interesting insight into mental health history, Sam, and something I'd not considered at all! Because it can just be a blip or something much more serious, a pattern of behaviour. Not to mention the times when a disappearance is out of character and it turns out the missing person got mugged, had no cash, no phone, no oyster card... I do RT still, but I'm much more wary of what I'm sharing now.

Sam said...

We look at missing persons reports ref CRB/DBS but as soon as we see it was a a 14 year old who went missing frequently from a care home and found shopping in Croydon or whatever, then we totally dismiss something like that. Its only where there is mention of mental health reasons in the report that we look further. I had a girl who had about 30 reports we call 'non-crimes', hearing voices, being freaked out by people approaching her, etc. Last report very recent. Applying to be a voluntary helper at one of these urban farms for children. I spoke to two different professionals who had worked closely with her (from the Local Mental Health team and another relevant organisation) and they both agreed that they wouldn't recommend her working unsupervised with children simply because she had sudden breakdowns and would immediately need to get away on her own somewhere. I don't think she ever intended to work with children - they say she was more interested in working with animals, but we had to disclose for the safety of any potential children.