Mental Health on Tumblr

We accept the love we think we deserve. (Stephen Chbosky)

This website came to fruition from a cultural study of teenagers through a graduate-level course. The original project studied how mental health is represented on the popular social media website Tumblr, working as a community for teenagers and young adults who cope with various levels of mental illness, including depression, anxiety, Bipolar disorder, mood disorders, self harm and suicidal tendencies.

Background 

The digital generation has rapidly moved online, joining the network and community of social media outlets like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr. These teenagers are willing to share more public (and private) information about themselves online. This process creates a living journal of where they are, chronicling their interactions with friends, interests, and views on many different issues. Tumblr, the microblogging website, is an example of a social media outlet where these teenagers share both their private and public personal information.

Tumblr has been around since 2007. Admired for its anonymity, users can customize their own webpage and share text, photos, quotes, links, and videos. According to a study done through the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, 81% of all adolescents use social media (Radovic). Sites like Facebook and Twitter consist of sharing personal details about their lives, and connecting with their peers online. The same study explains that “adolescents use sites where they are known differently from sites on which they are anonymous” (Radovic). But sites like Tumblr are built around the idea of potential anonymity.

Mirroring this rise of social media use, depression has also become an increasing epidemic among teenagers, both in the United States and around the World. In the last 50 years, the rate of psychological issues in young people has grown substantially. A time study was conducted in the UK from 1974 where West and Sweeting looked at the “psychological distress” in a group of young adolescents. Ultimately, they found “increased rates of worry and distress among girls, but not among boys, and attributes these patterns to an increase in educational expectations” (Collishaw). While the study is outdated, their results from 40 years ago can still be seen on Tumblr with the increased presence of teenage girls in relation to the sectors pertaining to mental health issues. Visit our Users Page for a better breakdown on what type of users and demographics we are seeing on Tumblr.

Social media sites like Tumblr, PostSecret, and Whisper thrive on exploiting these depressive thoughts on millennials. When a teenager (or young adult, as the age trend on Tumblr suggests) stumbles on these sites, they are flooding with triggering images of mental illnesses and communities that thrive on feelings of depressions. Posts on Tumblr are labeled or categorized by hashtags chosen by the poster. There’s a myriad of triggering tags that can be searched to pull of what will be referred to as this “dark side” of Tumblr:

#depression #depressed #sh #selfharm #ednos #bpd #suicide #suicidal #cutting #anxiety #sad #alone #fuckedup #dark #mentalillness #mentalhealth #lonely #ugly #eatingdisorder #ana #thinspo #broken

The list goes on and on. Once users discover these hashtags, they’ve gained entrance into this anonymous community hidden on Tumblr, a community where they realize they’re not alone. If they search the right tag, Tumblr has a built in self-check, asking the user “Everything okay?” The page offers alternative sites, trying to direct them away from triggering images/content. But after clicking “View search results,” they enter the dark side of Tumblr. The main problem with posts with these tags is that they don’t encourage personal care. Instead, they reinforce the idea that their feelings are warranted, sometimes going as far as to make these kids believe they can never be happy.

Works Cited

 

Collishaw, Stephan. “Time trends in adolescent mental health.” Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, vol. 45, no. 8, 2004, 1350-1362.

Radovic, Ana, et al. “It’s your Twitter, so you can just say how you feel: How adolescents with depression and their parents use social media.” Journal of Adolescent Health, vol. 56, no. 2, 2015, pp. S20-S35.

 

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