Social media is a part of our daily lives. We constantly check our phones for new likes or notifications, and transition between consuming and creating content throughout the day.
Laura Burnes is very open about her life with depression and anxiety on social media - so much so that she calls herself “The Mental Health Vegan” and started an online platform and community called, “Good Sh-t Daily.” We met Laura through a Twitter chat and learned that her extroversion and vivacious persona seemed to contradict the stereotype of those living with depression and Generalized Anxiety Disorder.
In the first installment of North’s four-part Mental Health Vegan series, Laura chats with us about living with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and depression - and why she puts it all out there on social media.
Some say that social media can have a negative impact on one’s mental health. Laura, however, has found that the positive influence of social media has outweighed the negative.
The story of Laura’s social media journey really begins after her attempted suicide.
“I had lost all hope. But, I lived to tell my story and help others. After my attempt, I spent some time in a facility that required us to attend group therapy where we would discuss: what your intentions are for the day, how are you going to get to your intentions, and what are the steps you're going to take. I started doing that on Instagram, and I did it for a solid month just to make sure I was publicly putting it out there.
Instagram was a perfect way for me to incorporate all of the things that I know about social media [as a social media manager and photographer] into my my mental health journey. It really started off as: once a day, post five good things that happened to you.”
Journaling has always been considered a good stress management tool. By writing down thoughts and feelings, people are able to clarify what they feel, can get to know themselves better, reduce stress, and solve problems more effectively. For Laura, the process of recording her experience via social media became a tool to improve her mental health, similar to a traditional pen and paper experience. By sharing her personal story online, Laura feels empowered.
Laura’s Instagram posts eventually became her platform, Good Sh-t Daily, which connects people through engaging, honest, and dynamic content to cultivate courage and shift focus to the good in the world. She created a space where people build the confidence to speak their truth, engage with peers, and/or find affordable mental health care. Not only does Laura help others with her voice, but she finds healing in sharing her perspective.
“Social media helps me express myself and find meaning in my everyday experience. By putting my story online, I am able to dispel myths about mental health issues to raise awareness and end mental health stigma. By helping others, I have been able to help myself.”
As Laura began to expand Good Sh-t Daily, she started using YouTube and a podcast channel to connect with her audience. She found that her personality was better expressed on these new platforms and she quickly developed an international community of followers.
“In written words, you don't get a lot of my personality. YouTube has been one of the best ways for me to reach more people. I’ve made friends with the people across the globe. It's been great, especially for someone like me, who is an extrovert, but doesn’t like to be out all the time. It's a good way for me to get out all the ‘peopling’ that I need to do without without actually having to ‘people.’
As many recent studies have pointed out, posting personal information online is not always a good experience. Prolonged use of social media has been linked to signs and symptoms of depression and low self-esteem. Laura, however, has found a way to control the social media environment to fit her needs, and handle the negative comments and feedback in a way that doesn’t hurt her mental health or damage the nurturing online environment she has worked hard to create. She is inspired by the late-actress Carrie Fisher, who tackled those who criticized her head-on.
“Carrie would say stuff off-the-walls, like, ‘yeah, I'm a little bit crazy today. And? So what; who cares.’ It's one of those things where you have to be like, good for you. Are you done? I don't have time for your stigma.”
“There's always this fear that people aren't going to understand, or people are going to come out and say, ‘Oh, you're just faking. You just want attention,’ or, ‘Stop whining,’ but I'm a big believer in Dr. Martin Luther King’s quote: ‘You can't drive out the darkness with darkness. You've got to look behind it. There's pain there somewhere. It has nothing to do with me; it has everything to do with the commenter and what they are feeling that day. It doesn’t matter what my post is. People are always going to have something to say. I think it's important, but also really hard to realize, that the way people react to you is not about you.”
As Laura continues to share her perspective, support others struggling with mental health issues, and encourage positive thinking online via her website, social media, and podcast, she hopes her efforts will transform individuals as well as the healthcare system.
“The universe gave me Generalized Anxiety Disorder as a gift for a reason. I felt like I needed to do more, and every time I do more, I get this crazy idea to do more. It's going to be interesting to see how it grows.”
In the next installation of the Mental Health Vegan series, we will learn how Laura was able to seek help when no one had the knowledge to recognize she was in trouble, how she finally found a therapist, and why she believes people’s mental health is their own responsibility -- coming soon from North.