Is social media part of the mental health solution?

“I was only 16 when I tried committing suicide by sticking a knife in my head. I was in the ward for two weeks then I went back to school.”

This is only part of the story 22-year-old bartender Harry Ash is willing to share to help spread the message about an affliction that affects nearly half of the population.

According to online national mental health charity website SANE Australia, almost 45 per cent of Australians will suffer a mental disorder at some stage in their lives.

In every other way, Ash is your typical Australian guy. But he’s been diagnosed as being both bipolar and schizophrenic.

He says he didn’t understand what was going on at first, and he still can’t explain what the chemical imbalance feels like today or why he can’t live a normal life like his mates.

He says the worst thing he does is use social media to compare himself to others.

“I’m 22, I’m a drug addict, I’ve got mental health problems, I’ve been diagnosed with bipolar whilst my friends are in Mexico doing surveying, whilst my friends have graduated and moved to Melbourne, whilst my friends are ballin’ and I’m stuck doing the same shit because I haven’t dealt with my inner problems within myself, to as why I take drugs, to as why I have that self-destructive streak,” he says.

He believes social media is never a good option for those seeking change.

But Halifax Rugby League player Luke Ambler found social media helpful after his brother-in-law committed suicide in April.

“The missus and I came up with the simple but strong idea to help people become more aware of male suicide,” he says.

The campaign saw news feeds being filled with selfies, the hashtag #ItsOKToTalk and a powerful message that had a global impact.

“The single biggest killer of men aged under 45 is suicide,” Ambler says.

“In 2014, 4,623 took their own life in Australia. That’s 12 men every day and one man every two hours.

“41 per cent of men who contemplated suicide felt they could not talk about their feelings.

“Only 20 per cent of people know that suicide is the most likely cause of death for men age under 45.”

Ambler says the movement has already reached millions of people around the world, but it’s just the beginning of something that he hopes will help erase the stigma behind mental health and the idea that blokes showing emotion is a weakness.

“I like to compare it to the men hunter times back when men didn’t talk about their feelings, when they were seen as tough beings and women were the sensitive ones,” he says.

“Why can’t men talk about their feelings like women do?

“There is a lad culture. People like taking the mick out of people and any sign of emotion is seen as a weakness.”

Ambler says social media has provided him with a platform to show men that talking about their mental state doesn’t make them any less of a man.

“This is not just for people with problems but people without problems, too, because it could affect anyone at any point of their life and people need to know it’s ok to talk,” he says.

SANE Australia forum centre manager Suzanne Leckie says the use of social media for support is a growing trend.

“We currently have 5000 online members, the majority have a mental illness and are there to seek and provide peer support,” she says.

Leckie says it’s also an important source of help for those in regional and remote areas  without other treatment options and for those who need help outside of hours.

“For example people talk about dealing with frequent suicidal ideation; not all friends and family members would cope with this discussion,” she says.

Although it is still more common to seek support from family and friends, technology can provide a backup.

Full-time student Matt Jones has type two bipolar and has struggled with anxiety for most of his life.

He says his family, friends, girlfriend and doctors provide plenty of support, but technology allows him to help himself sometimes.

“I’ve just started using an app online called headspace. It’s more a mediation app,” he says.

“It’s been really good because in the last few weeks I’ve needed to calm myself down and so I’ve taken myself away and given myself just ten minutes to relax and clear my mind.”

But Jones says social media can also have a negative impact on mental health.

“I don’t think people quite realise how powerful social media can be from that perspective,” he says.

Fremantle Men’s Community Shed president Bill Johnstone says social media has an important role in helping people with their challenges.

“There’s a lot of older men that aren’t that excited about technology and if they don’t learn to embrace it they get left behind,” he says.

“If you don’t know how to use it, you get disengaged from things that are going on around you so it’s a really important role for people to be apart of.”

Johnstone was originally a teacher and has previously won the WA Premiers award for his research into engaging youth back into the community. This is when he further investigated the idea of creating a men’s shed – a place where people from the community can go to work on physical projects.

With the help of a close friend, he set up the first community shed in WA. There are now 170 of them.

“Men are very basic and primal. You know, that’s really the issue. They can walk into the shed, smell the sawdust, work on something and have a product at the end of it that is visual and tactile,” he says.

He says a lot of natural communication goes on when men work at a bench together. While they might not talk about their problems at a bus stop or in the office, men open up over a shared manual task.

“If they’re working on a project together or they’re working side-by-side on benches, a huge amount of discourse happens, sharing beyond the physical level, and that’s when true healing can happen,” he says.