The Ethics of Mental Health on Youtube

Clickbait on the YouTube platform has been heavily contested within the community. However, for some, this has reached the realm of unacceptability as it has been applied to content discussing mental health. This sentiment was recently raised in a JackMaate video, Laurence McKenna on the Problem of Mental Health. Within the video, there are false assumptions made about mental health which leads Laurence to argue that posting mental health videos online when someone is not a mental health professional is morally wrong. This essay will argue against this and will highlight the importance of such content online.

Laurence feels that the way mental health is discussed on the YouTube platform is wrong. This is because some people claim they can cure everyone’s depression from their own experience but in reality, Laurence views depression as subjective and the content produced is unlikely to help them. This is made morally worse as it appears to Laurence that some may not suffer from mental health problems but are using it as an excuse to avoid responsibility, manipulate others and as a way to make money. He also points out that by having people who have  mental illness discuss it online, it encourages them to use it as an identity which makes processing their condition harder. It also creates the idea that further mental health problems are inevitable. He goes as far as to suggest that some people want their condition to create “drama” and “meaning” in their life. As a result, he argues that it is wrong for YouTube to encourage unqualified people to talk about mental health on the platform and it should be strictly mental health professionals who discuss it online.

The strength of  Laurence’s argument is the recognition of the fact that mental health conditions impact people in different ways. This is certainly true. For instance, some people may express depression by struggling to get out of bed or struggling to eat. However, for others, they may be able to lead a fairly active life, but suffer from suicidal thoughts. As a result, I think Laurence is right to conclude that it is unfair for a creator to propose that they can cure someone’s mental illness through their content due to the variation within mental illnesses and it is wrong to pray on someone’s desperation or hopefulness in this manor, particularly when people can be at their most vulnerable. However, this should not be over-emphasised as creators have become aware of this and do often put disclaimers at the start of their videos. Also, while it might not provide a complete cure, there may be some overlap between experiences which may aid someone who is mentally ill. This will be further discussed below.

However, the fundamental problem with Laurence’s argument is he tries to distinguish between those who “actually have” mental health problem and those who pretend, suggesting there are a number of people who fake their mental illness. It seems as if he equates people who make money online from mental health videos to those who don’t actually have mental illness. That is to say, those who talk about their mental illness online are using it as an identity to be a hero or are looking for “drama” in their life. This suggests that the illness is fake and is being used as a mask to gain attention. This could come from the assumption that mental illness is stereotyped as being quiet and withdrawn. However, this is not the case. As mentioned in the video, mental illnesses can affect people differently. It is possible for incredibly extroverted people to suffer from mental illnesses. On top of this, it should be noted that even if someone is over-exaggerating or viewing their illness as inevitable, it is not because they are actively faking their mental illness. It is instead often part of it. For instance, catastrophising every situation and a feeling of hopelessness is part of certain mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression. Manipulation can be the result of someone’s anxieties around being left alone. Such characteristics should not be used to invalidate people’s experience of mental health, it should be used as evidence for it. Furthermore, Laurence and Jack argue that mental illness is “subjective” or “experiential”. While I am sure they did not intend it, this could be interpreted as mental health conditions not existing as they cannot be objectively verified. While I agree there is some variation within mental illnesses, I would not go as far as to argue they are merely “subjective” – there is a fundamental check list for all mental illnesses which all health professionals use demonstrating mental illness is not subjective and as a result not fake. Therefore, it is an unfair assumption to label all people discussing mental health online as pretending to have a mental health condition in order to gain money. As a result, Laurence’s argument that discussing mental health online is wrong as those talking about it are faking their illness is incorrect as they are not faking it.

It could be possible to argue that, while not everyone pretends to have a mental health condition online, there are people who do use mental health conditions inappropriately to make money on YouTube. It is these people who Laurence is objecting to instead of everyone who posts mental health videos online. This is a leap, as, when paired with other arguments within the video such as the discussion about whether unqualified people should be encouraged to discuss mental health online, it would suggest he would be referring to everyone and is creating a blanket policy. Even so, the consequences of this adapted line of argument are undesirable as it then creates the question of how it can be told which creators are faking their illness and which are not. It is pointed out during the video that we as people are not qualified to be making the judgement of who has a “genuine” mental health condition and those who don’t. Therefore, it is inappropriate to be making a moral judgement on who should be posting mental health videos online and who should not be. While this may not be what Laurence was attempting to do in the video, it is certainly a consequence of his view point which should be taken into account.

One of the arguments that is discussed within the video for talking about mental health online is that, by discussing it online, it raises awareness. The group try to reject this argument as they believe that people are sufficiently aware of mental health and more content is not needed, supporting Laurence’s argument.  However, the video itself proves this to not be true. Jack himself admits to not believing panic attacks existed before he experienced his girlfriend as having one and Alex comes forward to discuss his experience of teachers not understanding his anxiety. It is also accepted multiple times in the video that the creators believe they do not have sufficient knowledge to deal with certain situations (for instance, suicide threats).  Therefore, it is evident that it is important to create videos on such topics as there is still some awareness that needs to be raised.

In addition, I feel the video looks at a too narrower bases for why people produce videos on mental health and what benefits it might bring to those who suffer from it. It is not just a bunch of greedy content creators praying on vulnerable people who are looking for a complete cure or people trying to be a hero and raise awareness. Mental health conditions are often isolating and lonely. Sometimes people with mental health conditions don’t have others around them that have the condition or understand what there going through. By sharing experiences, it creates a community of individuals who can support each other. What I am not suggesting is that those who are mentally ill should use YouTube as a place for therapy. There is no replacement for treatment from health professionals. However, in a similar way as there are support groups for those suffering from physical ailments so they can make friends with those who have similar experiences, YouTube can provide a similar support for those with mental illnesses. Therefore, this can be seen as why it is so vital to have mental health discussed on the YouTube platform.

While the fundamental idea expressed at this point in the video is incorrect, I believe they are attempting to express a different issue; there is a difference between raising awareness and educating. It may appear there is a slim difference between the two, but it is a fundamentally important one. Raising awareness is merely pointing out that something exists while educating is teaching someone about something. This difference is important because it demonstrates the contrast between acknowledging something (in this case, mental health) and being educated in such a manor where you can appropriately deal with it. I would argue that the latter is far more important. For instance, releasing balloons or stamping people’s hands with a mental health stamp for mental health awareness week has a limited impact on people’s lives. This would class as raising awareness. What is far more impactful would be to hand out leaflets explaining different mental health conditions, how they visibly affect people and what others can do to help those being affected by a mental illness. In the same way, I think it is important to create content which isn’t merely about raising awareness, but actively educating people on mental health topics.

The final issue I have with the video is the suggestion that only mental health professionals should discuss mental health online. I think Laurence suggests this in order to avoid the issue of people perpetuating their own mental health issues through the creation of content. This has been discussed earlier on in the essay. However, the importance of having people with mental health conditions discussing their experiences online has not been mentioned. This is not to suggest that mental health professionals shouldn’t put content onto the YouTube platform; they are important in providing the education which has been mentioned above. However, the experiences of those with mental health conditions are just as valid. This can be expressed by creating an analogy with physical illnesses, such as migraines. It is important for individuals to be educated on the symptoms of migraines such as immense pain, slurred speech, numbness etc. However, what is not expressed through this is what it is like to deal with migraines on a daily basis, such as how they impact on someone’s ability to go to school. This can only be provided by those who actually experience migraines. This is the same for those with mental health conditions. An expert can tell you a list of symptoms for a certain mental illness, but it takes someone who has that mental health condition to give you an idea of how this appears in a person’s daily life. Therefore, Laurence’s idea must be rejected as those who suffer from mental illness can make as valid content on YouTube as a mental health professional.

To conclude, the video expresses many incorrect ideas about mental illness and its place on the YouTube platform ( such as the idea some people are faking their condition). As a result, he falsely leads to a conclusion about how ethically moral it is to post mental health videos on YouTube. This essay has highlighted such assumptions and has explained why mental health content on the platform is important. Therefore, those who are producing mental health content should not be viewed as carrying out a morally wrong action.

Published by Philosopher Ad Absurdum

Student studying MA Philosophy of Mind and Cognitive Science at the University of Birmingham; First Class BA Philosophy and History from the University of Southampton.

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