You might be grateful, if that’s the right word, that at least you struggled with postpartum depression or anxiety in the age of social media. You probably haven’t met anyone in your neighborhood who has had a maternal mental illness. You might not be aware of any friends who’ve had it. But you can find thousands of moms just like you by searching the internet, and that’s awesome. Postpartum Progress started out as a blog (we’re now a full-fledged national nonprofit in case you didn’t know) so we’re big fans of social media.
Still, we believe it’s important to use social media carefully when you’re in the midst of struggling with PPD or related illnesses. Or for that matter, when you are in the midst of struggling with life. Hopping on Facebook or Instagram can make you feel connected, understood and supported. And sometimes it can also make you feel like crap.
With that in mind, here are six things we want you to know about postpartum depression and social media.
6 Things You Should Know About Postpartum Depression & Social Media
#1 – Comparison is the thief of joy.
It’s a known fact that many people present a more idealized version of themselves on social media. There’s actually a term for it now called “duck syndrome.” Duck syndrome means appearing cool and calm as you glide along the surface while at the same time hiding the fact that you are paddling furiously beneath the water, struggling to keep up. If you think everyone else in the world is doing great and you’re the only one who is struggling, you’re wrong. We’re just showing you our feathers and not our duck feet.
Along with unfounded feelings of failure, social media also can create a false pressure to achieve. Say there’s a mama on Facebook talking about how she had postpartum depression and she’s grateful she got help early. She found the exact right treatment and is already better and about to wean off her medication at 8 months postpartum. Your baby, on the other hand, already had her first birthday, you’re miserable, and you’ve only recently reached out for help. Or maybe you’re being treated but now feeling like you should have already weaned off your medication like the mama you saw on Facebook.
Here’s what we need you to do: Stop. STOP THAT RIGHT NOW. (Pretty please?) There is not nor has there ever been one right way to get better. There’s no magic pill or potion or therapy that works in the same way for each person. There’s no correct amount of time it should take you to recover. You don’t get a medal for quitting treatment early, and in fact it’s not good for you. You do you.
#2 – Other people’s stress and fighting can affect your mental health, even on the internet.
Not all of it is unwarranted, of course, but there’s a lot of negativity and anger on social media. Spend an hour on the internet and you’ll no doubt see people arguing back and forth, threatening each other, blocking each other. Believe it or not, the more awareness you have of other people’s stress and upset, the more it can impact your own mental health.
According to the Pew Research Center, “… awareness of other people’s problems is associated with a range of negative outcomes, such as depression. The ‘cost of caring’ associated with awareness of other people’s stressful events may be a negative consequence of social media use because social media may make users more aware of the struggles of those in their network.” In other words, all the outrage and arguing and upset you’re seeing can affect your mental health.
Did you know that stress can be contagious? If you feel like all the personal upset you’re seeing is dragging you down, take a break. It doesn’t mean you can’t be supportive of others. It just means you might need to step back from from it every so often.
#3 – Too much of a good thing isn’t a good thing.
Think about how many people you can touch and see in person on a regular basis. How much do you know about what’s going on in their lives? Every single thing? Probably not. On the internet, however, we get to know lots of people and we end up learning MUCH more about them than we might ever have offline. We see what their likes are, what their dislikes are, what they had for breakfast, what their kid did, what their job is like, what their politics are … the internet is hyperpersonal.
What does this mean for you? You might meet a mom or group of moms online who you connect with because they have a perinatal mood or anxiety disorder at the same time you do. You are all good people. You support each other. You end up adding each other as friends. Months or years later you might see this person with whom you felt very safe and attached saying things on Facebook that upset you. Those things might go against your beliefs, or your political views, or your expectations. Sometimes internet connectedness leads to knowing so much about people that you can begin to feel divided rather than unified.
Try to remember that there is much more to each Warrior Mom than PPD. We can care for each other and love on each other but we are not going to agree on everything. Ever. Try to give as much grace as you can. And should you need to, remove yourself from more personal connections with people and stick with the maternal mental health-focused groups.
#4 – There are times when all these people end up making you feel more alone.
Some of us have 3 followers and some have 13,000. Some of us share our experience with postpartum depression on social media and get tons of loving responses, while others share and no one says anything at all. It’s easy to equate your worth with how many followers you have or how many comments of support you receive, but it isn’t healthy.
Maybe people didn’t open Twitter that day. Maybe it was a big news day and their Facebook stream was flooded with memes and too many other things. There is a whole host of reasons why you might not get the support or feedback you expected, but one of them is NOT that you are unworthy.
#5 – Bad advice and unsolicited comments are everywhere.
Not everyone has training on how to provide the best support for moms with maternal mental illness. They don’t know, for example, that you shouldn’t force your own beliefs about parenting styles or baby feeding on someone who is struggling.
We believe you shouldn’t tell a mom that a certain medication, specific natural supplement or one type of therapy is the best way to go and that you know it will work for her because it did for you. We think you shouldn’t expect that every mom you are trying to support has health insurance, or has the finances to be able to afford therapy, or understands or talks about perinatal mental illness in the same way you do in your culture. This is one reason Postpartum Progress works to provide all of its peer support volunteers with a variety of free trainings, such as Mental Health First Aid.
One good rule of thumb? If someone on the internet isn’t really listening to you, is judgmental of you, or acts like they have alll the answers, they’re probably not someone who should be giving you advice.
#6 – Social media can drain away the limited time you have for self care.
If you have a baby, or kids, and are working in the home or outside of it, you already have no time to yourself. If you feel like you have to be on Facebook or Instagram or Twitter nonstop so you can keep up with everything that is going on, you’ll end up using some of your valuable self care time staring at a small, glowing screen instead of doing things just for you. Like sleeping!!
We want you to make sure you prioritize your rest and your nutrition WAYYYY ahead of social media. Some tips: Don’t plug your phone in right next to your bed. If you put it in another room overnight you won’t be tempted to pick it up, and the buzzing sounds won’t prevent you from sleeping. Also, try to put down all smartphones, computers and iPads for an entire hour before you go to bed. It helps your mind slow and calm down so you can rest.
None of this is to say, of course, that you should cancel all your social media accounts and run for the hills. Postpartum depression and social media can work together. Connecting to resources and support online is a great thing and it will remain a great thing. But if you have one of those days, or even a period of time, where it starts to feel like being on social media is hurting more than it helps, step away. Give yourself time to step back and regroup. It’s okay to take time off. We’ll all be here when you get back.