I am quite fascinated by YouTubers. I find it incredible that people can record their every move, thought and life event in such detail and consider that it is fascinating to others. In some ways it is of interest but really only for a very brief time. In much the same way that when I would go for a walk around where I lived as a child, I loved to look into the homes that had their lights on and their curtains open in the front room for everyone to see, then these Youtubers are doing very little that is different from this. However, people love to feel that it is their right to condemn people who put themselves in the public eye. YouTubers are becoming a target not just for trolls, but for people who enjoy disliking them. There is a dedicated site where viewers post horrible things about YouTubers and the vitriol expressed here is unbelievably venomous. A great deal of these YouTubers mention that they suffer from mental health issues; anxiety and panic attacks appear to be incredibly popular. Frequently when they are criticised or when they wish to attract additional viewers, they will cite the effect on their anxiety. They wear it almost as a badge of honour. Please don’t criticise me or you will make my anxiety worse or bring back my panic attacks.
YouTubers frequently talk about their mental-health and how they need to take time out for the latest buzz word – self-care. Many have self-diagnosed these conditions. One of the most successful YouTubers, Zoella, frequently discusses her battle with anxiety to her army of loyal young fans. Some might claim that by doing this, Zoella is inspiring young people to talk more about mental health and she is managing to break down some of the stigma. However, I am not convinced that this is the case.
One YouTuber was unable to put up a video the other day and used the excuse of needing to take a mental-health day of self-care to calm herself down and to prevent her mental health issues from spiralling out of control. Another Youtuber was criticised by her long-term following, as she has been putting out a lot of adverts in place of her usual content, no doubt in a bid to pay off her huge mortgage. Her fans were saying that her video content seemed rather half-hearted and they were becoming increasingly fed up with all the adverts that she was now producing. Her reaction was to film herself crying and saying how her heart had not been in her work as she was experiencing extreme anxiety. Everyone who criticised her was part of deliberate bullying tactics to cause her further mental health issues. The response from her fans was apologetic. They instantly turned their criticisms into placatory sympathy. Thus, anxiety became her get-out clause.
I am not doubting that the YouTubers suffer from anxiety. Many of them do this as a full-time career and thus they are doing something that comes with an uncertain future. This doubt over their future will inevitably lead to much of their anxiety. Furthermore, they do not have a typical 9-to-5 job which makes it difficult to make a marked distinction between work and home life. There are so many different forms of social media that it must frequently feel like their job is never-ending. However, what I do feel is concerning, is their flippancy in using mental health as a far too readily available excuse. I find this somewhat offensive to people who do have genuine mental health issues. If YouTubers are using mental health issues to get them out of criticism from their followers or as a flippant reason for being lazy or feeling exhausted, then this is clearly unacceptable.
Over the past forty years major strides have been made to break down the stigma surrounding mental health issues and as someone who has had depression and anxiety, then I fully support this. I have suffered from mental health issues in my life and since I was a small child, I have suffered from extreme anxiety. I’ve had anxiety over many things: heights, hills, crossing big roads, stairs, and the main issue of anxiety was driving – before I eventually gave it up. As I was growing up, I didn’t want people to know that I had anxiety and I kept it to myself. We have clearly made major strides in our attitude towards mental health and there is still more that needs to be done to break down the stigma of mental health. Yet I do believe that this constant need to shift the blame for their own feelings of inadequacy, means that YouTubers are down-playing the true symptoms of mental health and we risk undoing all the good work that has been done to break the stigma. There are now so many Youtubers that claim they suffer from mental health issues that it is increasingly difficult to find one who doesn’t. They all use it: the Mummy vloggers, the teen vloggers, the beauty vloggers, in fact the only group who don’t seem to mention it are the OAP vloggers such as Jo Good, who prefers to talk about places she has visited and people she has met. When we used to tune into traditional media such as television, people tuned in to be entertained and to step away from the reality of real life. Now it appears that the media we receive into our homes through YouTube, is all about the harsh realities of life namely educating people on self-care and mental health.
The answer to this problem is of course to turn off and to stop watching these YouTubers and I have done this. However, it does concern me that there is now a generation growing up who are more heavily influenced by YouTubers than myself. Judging by the number who claim to suffer from frequently self-diagnosed mental health illness, then it does appear as though we are facing an epidemic. However, we are also witnessing the emergence of a blame culture where when we fail to work or to do what we have promised, the easiest thing to do is to blame our mental health. After all it is possible to see if someone genuinely has a broken leg but not so easy to check the validity of their mental health illness. Sadly, there will always be charlatans. As parents we need to educate our children about this and by doing so, we ensure that our children are aware of the true nature of mental health conditions.