Virtual support


In 2016, almost 80 percent of Americans had at least one social media account, according to Statista. That’s up from 7 percent in 2005, when Pew Research began tracking social media users.

Social media provide users with a variety of resources. Online, people can talk to those they know, meet new people, post pictures, and much more. Whether it’s finding emotional support, a non-judgmental person to talk to, or anything in between, people can find help through their social media accounts. Ball Bearings listened to the stories of five individuals who found support on social media, and discussed how it can create positive change.

Amanda Ballenger is an Honors College Academic Advisor at Ball State University.

I have pretty bad clinically-diagnosed depression. Most of the time I’m good at fighting it. It’s exhausting, but I can fight it.

But certain times of the year, or when things happen in my personal life that trigger some extra-bad feelings or thoughts, I can’t shut them down no matter how hard I try. Things like, “I’m not good enough” or “I can’t do this.” It’s ruminating on bad things and focusing on the negative aspects [that] make you feel even worse.

Once you start that process, it’s really hard to fight off. So there have been times when I turned to Facebook or Tumblr and said, “Hey all. I’m not feeling too good right now. I’m in a really vile mood and could use some help, so send me happy things. Send me things that have made you laugh or smile—just something to distract me.” I had about thirty or forty friends actually send me things. Everything from adorable cat videos to weird little flash games that might only take ten minutes to play.

I’ve actually saved most of those, bookmarking things people send because they’re adorable and fun to look at even when I’m in a good mood.

I think social media are pretty powerful, but it is what we make of it. You can have a huge effect on somebody, for better or for worse. We need to be conscious of the power of our words and remember that we’re talking to real people. We always need to be mindful of the tone and words we choose because we lose a lot of that visual communication that’s so important. We only have the words..

Joyce Powell, a mother of five, lives in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois. She has two master’s degrees, one in marriage and family studies and another in cultural anthropology. She works as a part-time consultant coordinating fundraising for a nonprofit foundation.

We have two boys, ages 14 and 9. They both have a genetic kidney disease that usually causes the kidneys to fail by age 13

We found out about two years ago in late January or early February. The 14-year-old had a [kidney] transplant about a year ago and he’s doing much better. But the 9-year-old is on a downhill slide. His functioning is bad enough that he can be considered for a transplant at any time. So that’s good news.

When this happened, I began posting about it: “Here’s what we’re going through, here’s what’s happening today, we’re in the hospital and we have no idea what’s wrong,” and then the next day, “The doctors say we still don’t know what’s wrong but we know his kidney’s not working well,” and on we went. So people went through the discovery process with us, and we kept them updated with what was happening.

Lots of people will hit “like” or use one of the new expressive options. Tons of comments: “We’ll pray for you, oh, I’m so sorry, let me know if there’s anything I can help with.”

We got in-person help too [due to letting everyone know what was going on through social media]. We had people bring over meals. We had people call or email and say “Can I pick up your other kids from school?” Just remarkable. I had a friend that I haven’t seen since high school who sent me gifts to encourage me. Isn’t that amazing?

My husband’s Facebook is linked with a lot of professional friends, so he would share my posts or just post his own. People in his field began to find out what was going on, and one of them decided to do a GoFundMe page to raise money for expenses. Between the GoFundMe and a student club that’s involved in the field, they did a fundraiser and ended up raising $12,000 to help us pay for medical expenses. And that’s all from Facebook.

[Because of social media], I haven’t felt as alone. I like reconnecting with the people I went to highschool and college with. They can remind me who I was, and who I used to be, before we started going through hard times. And it really surprised me how much that kind of support and strength meant to me.

We’ve just been going through the wringer for a long time. When you’re in that kind of long-term crisis, you kind of forget who you are. I was so focused on surviving that a lot of times I would just feel like a failure because of the things I couldn’t do. I used all of my energy just trying to help our family survive. People I knew before the suffering could remind me who I was, and that was really priceless.

Christina Thibodeau is a junior at Ball State University majoring in economics and international development and relations.

I’m in this Facebook group called Neurodivergent Aesthetics, which is basically a support group for anyone with narrow divergences or mental health issues. It started as a meme group where you just made silly jokes about mental illness and stuff, but then it became like a crowdsourcing group for any sort of mental health problems. You can ask questions about medications or certain experiences you might be having. I’ve also talked about my mental health on social media before, and the support that’s come from that is really helpful.

I first wrote about my depression on social media in a long Facebook post. Twenty-some people commented just sharing their experiences or telling me they loved me and supported me. It was really powerful to not have to hide.

[Social media] are helpful in finding support because you can say anything when you’re behind a keyboard. It allows me to say what I need to say, and I can get out those feelings without self-censoring. Other people can do the same in response, so it creates this area of support that is sometimes hard to create in person. You can be more vulnerable without watching someone see you be vulnerable.

Erin Drake is a senior at Ball State University majoring in English studies and telecommunications (digital video production).

[During my] freshman year of college, I was really angsty and ready to get out. I was ready to just be my own person. I didn’t want to do anything with my parents, and I had just discovered Tumblr at the time. On Tumblr, you curate this menagerie on your blog of different images, using different modes of shareable content. You can really create this aesthetic like it’s a version of your identity. I was finally able to express myself in a way I didn’t feel like I was able to on Facebook or Twitter.

One time on Tumblr I came across the blog of Kelly Burk. She goes by October Moonlight on Tumblr. She had some really nice poetry, and I sent her a message on Tumblr’s fan mail service, [saying that I appreciated her writing]. Then she looked at my blog and got a sense of who I am because I was really revealing on Tumblr.

I was talking about how sad I was back then: All of my fears and insecurities. Burk saw that and we started a correspondence. [Even though] it was never frequent, because she’s a woman in her 30’s, she became someone I could go to with my problems. She would give me advice because I didn’t want to go to my parents [or anyone else]. I’ve always had a fascination with older people and their experience, which I see as more valid than the experiences of my peers.

In the beginning, I relied on her a lot. I messaged her with all these things that were happening in my life, and all of these questions I had. She helped build the basic framework for my spiritual health on the idea that the point in life isn’t to be happy. It’s to just be at peace.

Bad stuff is going to happen, and you’re going to have feelings you’re not proud of. You’re going to get depressed or jealous and petty. But just be full of love for whatever happens versus trying to push yourself to be something you’re not.

I think [one of] the positives [of social media] is definitely connecting with people. Maybe you come from a small town, or maybe you come from a family that doesn’t get you. [Social media lets you] meet people who like the same TV shows and movies you do, and who have the same thought processes. I think it’s really great to talk to one another and find support in people.

Elise Miller lives in Portland, Oregon, where she works for Laika, a stop-motion animation studio. She graduated from Ball State University in 2011 with a degree in general studies and minors in mathematics, Spanish, psychology, and technical theatre. She also attended the Oregon College of Art and Craft, earning a Post-Baccalaureate Certificate in woodworking and metalsmithing. The interview with Elise was conducted via Facebook because of scheduling conflicts.

Back in high school, I was dumped by my first real boyfriend. I probably wouldn’t today, but at the time I took to social media to express my heartbreak. I was very surprised that a lot of my friends responded to my sad Facebook statuses with private messages, texts, or even phone calls or invitations to hang out. I basically told the world I was sad, and the world actually listened.

However, the specific incident I thought of when I saw your question was when I posted some status about how I was feeling sad and heartbroken, and a friend responded with a very encouraging, realistic message. In the moment, it helped me feel a little better.

Looking back, I can point to that specific message as a turning point in my breakup recovery. It was particularly meaningful to me because my friend pointed out how many people cared about me. I took a moment and noticed all the other supportive messages from friends in my inbox, and I realized that my friend was right; I really did have a lot of people who cared about and loved me.

The visual confirmation of seeing all my friends’ love in my inbox really put the whole situation in perspective for me. After that, the breakup no longer felt like the end of the world because one guy seemed pretty insignificant compared to all my friends.

I think the most significant way social media have made a positive change is by helping people stay connected. I still keep up with friends from all over and from different times in my life, which would be incredibly hard without social media.

Social media can also act as a mirror to our lives. Since we choose what we post, we have the opportunity to post only what we find good about ourselves. While this can have negative effects, it also means you get to choose how you portray yourself online. Logging into Facebook instantly boosts my mood, because I see my friends and things I’ve posted that I find positive about myself. It’s a little narcissistic, but I get to see myself how I want to be seen. People’s profiles usually reflect the best parts of them, so it can be an awesome pick-me-up!

Social media have a lot of different functions. It allows some to reconnect with people from all over the world. For others, it’s a place to meet and interact with new people they wouldn’t have met otherwise. For these people and many more, social media provide a place to receive emotional support and a listening ear in times of trouble.

Ball Bearings has edited statements for clarity.


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