Aug 15, 2014

Mental and Physical Health - A Tribute and a Takeaway

Mental and Physical Health: Raising Awareness and Actually Doing Something With It

In the wake of Robin Williams' passing, there have been lots of posts and tributes, some more well written and thought provoking than others (hint: this isn't one of those).  I don't feel I have much to add, nor do I have a personal spin to put on it.

I would, however, like to reiterate the points that Jana's post made: depression affects so many more people than just celebrities.  Yet we tend to ignore it until something happens to someone famous.  She also mentions the hope that this event will open people's eyes to the broader problem of it, rather than remaining solely focused on one person.  And she briefly refers to the stigma associated with it.

That was news to me.  I've heard enough about depression in the past few years that I figured everyone was comfortable with it.  But then I read a post on Arkansassy about the vilification of mental illness, and I couldn't help but see some truth in it.

People do see sufferers of depression as "weak" or "selfish."  We think they can "snap out of it" if they really want to.  We think we understand how they feel, because we had a slump once where we were sad for a while.

In general, the majority of us are completely uneducated about depression and mental disease.

In a seemingly unrelated twist, I'd like to discuss Facebook campaigns.  Particularly the one for ALS that's currently going around.  Haven't seen it?  The participants post a video of themselves dumping ice water on their head, and then tag other people, urging them to keep the chain going.

Ok, but it's for a good cause, right?  Nothing wrong with people having fun and supporting charity at the same time.  Except... what are they actually doing for charity?  I had no idea what the ice videos were for and was completely ignoring them until one of my Facebook friends presented her own counter video.

It's a bit snarky, but it was fun.  It starts with her sitting a table with a bowl of ice.  She discusses her opinions of the ice challenge (not good), then proceeds to write a check instead, and presents 2 posters with information about the organization and how to donate.

It was pretty awesome.

But then, another friend mentioned that donations are up to 4x the usual, due to the ice challenge.  How could this possibly be effective?  I watched a few other videos, and while there was a brief mention of ALS, they don't explain what ALS is (I had to ask someone), and they don't all mention donating.

I concluded that I've developed social media campaign blindness.  After the barrage of "if we get 1 bajillion likes, we get a puppy" or "our mom will stop smoking" or "like this picture to help out this cause" I've completely given up on all social media campaigns.  There's too many bad, ineffective ones, so I, and probably plenty of others, just ignore all of them.

Alright.  Here's the part where I'm going to tie these things together in a profound and earthshaking conclusion (well, or try to).  The problem is that we see these internet trends and campaigns, and we take a stance on it.  Either we agree, we support it, it's great, or we think it's silly and overdone and really not very effective.  Whatever stance we take, it stops there.  There's no follow up.

The ice campaign has been somewhat effective.  And it could be even more effective, as long as we remember what it's for.  Those videos?  They should mention the cause, provide some information, and ideally give donation information at some point.  The people who are participating shouldn't think, "Oh, well I'm raising awareness, so I don't have to donate."

If you care enough about this charity to make a video of yourself dumping ice on your head, then you care enough to send $5 their way.  Your Facebook friends?  Maybe they'll see it, maybe they'll care.  But maybe they'll have their own charities to donate to.  And maybe they'll be blind to it, like I was.

Your ice dumping is not providing any actual assistance.  Possibly someone else will see it, and they'll do something useful, like send money, but you can't count on that.  If you care, provide real substantial help, along with the "awareness" you're spreading.

How is this related to celebrity mental illness and suicide?  Depression is as big a problem as ALS, or any other physical illness, and yet there's a decided lack of social media campaigns about it.  Would donations even help?  I've never heard of anywhere asking for money to help mental illness (there actually are - more later).

But maybe money isn't always necessary.  Not everyone can give.  In the case of depression, I'd say the first step is awareness, and I think all the blog posts and tributes are a good start.  But if we don't take it further, if we just forget all about it in a week or 2, then what real good will that temporary awareness have done?

Here's my answer: educate yourself.  There's nothing we can do for Robin Williams, or for his family.  There's nothing we can do for other celebrities who are suffering.  But the people close to you are a different story.  Friends and family are essential in helping sufferers of depression acknowledge the problem, seek medical attention, and to continue to support that person throughout.  But when we're uneducated, when we vilify mental illness, or even support them in the wrong way, we're only increasing the frustrations inherent in the situation.

So feel how you feel about Robin Williams.  But then use that tragedy, and those negative emotions, and apply it to better understanding those close to you who may be suffering from the same thing.  Know what to look for and what to say.  Most importantly, know that it is a disease, and that your loved one is not doing this out of weakness, selfishness, or to hurt you.

The ice challenge, and the Robin Williams tributes seem like very different things.  But in the end, if you don't take some kind of action, neither one has much point.

Articles on depression I found helpful:
Education materials and information for donating to ALS:
Mental health organization you can donate to:
My chosen charities:
You don't have to donate to ALS or to ADAA.  I didn't.  But I did find charities that I liked and that my family was involved in to donate to.  In the end, everyone has to do what works for them and no one can do everything.  But everyone can do something.  And if there are causes you support and care about, remember that "liking" and "sharing" are not the same as actually doing something.

What charities are you involved with?  Have you ever donated because of a social media campaign?

Jenn signature graphic | Business, Life & Design


  1. Blargh, original post deleted. Trying again, but with a more concise version and unfortunately without most of the emotion my original one had. Hopefully the points are still there though:

    1. I agree mostly.
    2. ALS donations increasing but not to full potential is better than nothing.
    3. Did the ALS donations negatively offset other regularly scheduled donating during that time period? Is that a bad thing?
    4. General social pressure to do philanthropic deeds is a good thing, I think even if only 1 of 100 people do something they wouldn't normally have, that's a win.
    5. The negative banter on the Ice bucket challenge was actually good - it probably made some believers put their money where their mouth is.
    6. I wish there were a better solution for mental illness. The problem is it's so very grey - everyone agrees ALS is a disability, but where do you draw the line between depressed and sad, or ADHD and lazy?
    7. Further the issue is that physical disabilities like ALS are more visible.
    8. Another issue is there are less fighters for mental illnesses, maybe because of the reasons above, or it's a less "sexy" issue to get behind. Compared to race / gender / sexual injustice, etc.

    John out.

    1. As I get more informed about the ice bucket challenge, I do agree that it's doing pretty well on its own. It's still hard for me to believe it is doing so well, primarily because when I just saw people dumping ice, I had no interest in it, nor any intention of finding out. I only did so when I saw some of the backlash, because I wanted to know what they were talking about. So, like you said, the negative banter is probably helping, rather than harming.

      But I agree that the campaign is not a bad thing. Extra donations are awesome, and the fact that they're up 4 times the usual is phenomenal! I'm not sure how I feel about society pressuring anyone to do anything, even if it's positive. I suppose if the end result is positive, it's good, but I feel like that's the sort of justification you see in dystopian movies.

      I also agree with the points you made on mental illness being a more difficult cause to understand and support. Which is the main reason I pushed education rather than donations, though I'm sure both are helpful.

  2. Other things I have been reminded of after that comment: "save early and save often"

    1. I just posted my responses without copying them first. I didn't follow my own advice to you! Sorry you had so much trouble.

  3. I think the ALS campaign is brilliant. Would it have gone viral if the videos were more informational, or more pushy about asking for donations? Probably not. It went viral because it's fun and goofy and everyone secretly wants to dump ice on their head. But the fact that it went viral means it reached millions of people, most of whom had probably never heard of ALS, and brought in $10 million in donations. Which is way more good than your friend's snarky video could ever do.

    1. I actually think the campaign and the backlash against it are working in conjunction pretty well. Because a few people I've talked to had no idea what the campaign was about, and had no intention of finding out, but then you start seeing the other things, like the snarky video, and then you get more informed. This was the case for me, anyway.

      And I don't think mentioning Lou Gehrig's disease or the ALS foundation's contact info would have prevented the videos from going viral. The ice thing would still be goofy and fun. But there's not really a good way to scientifically test it since you're relying on a bunch of uncontrolled variables.

  4. Also, Tim Cook & Michael Franti took the challenge in front of the whole company at the last beer bash:

    Pretty fun.

    1. It is fun! (Link for the lazy: Apple CEO Takes ALS Ice Challenge) But you'll notice, the video gives a lot of information... (and it's great marketing for Apple)

      Other thoughts: The fact that they can call out celebrities (unlike us normal people) probably furthers the cause sooo much more. And why is "Ice, Ice Baby" even a song? It's just "Under Pressure"!!!


Talk to me! I'm friendly. I won't bite.

P.S. If you use Blogger and you want to get email replies to your comments, use your blogger profile instead of Google+ and make sure the box is checked next to "show my email address."