YouTube And Mental Health: How Much Are The Two Connected?

14 October 2016, 16:52 | Updated: 6 November 2017, 09:38

We the Unicorns

By Liam Dryden

YouTube creators are finally opening up by the dozens about their depression and anxiety; but why does internet fame seem attract mental illness so much?

With many of our favourite creators sharing words of support on World Mental Health Day this week, it's reassuring to see just how far the YouTube community has come. Breaking the taboo on talking about it, especially when it seems as though so many YouTube personalities are affected by various forms of depression or anxiety, has honestly been a long time coming.

Yesterday, Zoella posted a meaty update on her site, talking in detail about her anxiety for the first time in a couple of years. She recounts growing up with it, and the ways in which she had to make drastic changes as she quickly became the sensation we all know today.

"Some weeks I’d feel on top of the world, and other weeks I would be rocking back and fourth in tears on a train on my own on my way to London to film something," she admits in the post. "Although I never really talked in depth about my anxiety and the rise of my channel at the time, it was something that was extremely challenging to balance."

After sticking to a rigorous therapy schedule and stepping well outside her comfort zone, Zoe's made a lot of progress in recent months; and she would recommend therapy to anyone.

"We look after our skin, our hair, we go to the gym, the dentist, we focus on eating the right foods but how often do we spend time looking after the one thing that requires us to fully function in the way we do?"

Zoe has admitted to dealing with forms of anxiety well before she made a name for herself online; but with more and more YouTubers opening up about their own struggles all the time, it does beg the question: How much does YouTube and mental illness go hand in hand?

A few months ago, Charlie McDonnell opened up about dealing with anxiety and depression for almost as long as he has been creating videos on the site. He made the important distinction of "separating yourself from the illness" -  and inspired a newly nuanced way of being open about mental health online.

The obvious connection to make is that the pressures of fame will have a major contributing factor in mental illness; indeed, there have been an infinite number of studies and examples of how fame can have a direct affect on mental health. But in the case of YouTube, with many examples of creators getting into YouTube already dealing with their own issues, one does have to wonder how this career seems to attract those who already have a lot on their plate.

Surprisingly, some insight to this comes from one particular quote from the Mental Health panel at the last Summer in the City. During the discussion, panel contributor TomSka declared "I make the videos I wanted and needed to see when I was 14." While on its own, this is a powerful image of Tom's relationship with himself, it also taps into the idea of connectivity.

While many creators don't necessarily feel okay all the time, it's important to them that other who feel the same know that they aren't alone. Many creators who have been around as long as Charlie, Tom or Zoe joined YouTube not with the intent to become famous, but to connect with others over a shared passion. And with the rapid destigmatisation of discussing mental health, they have found a new role in becoming the voice of support they didn't have at an earlier age.

Are online fame and mental illness connected? Most likely. But that costly connection is also one of its greatest benefits; as where we previously had a silent few, we now have the tools to help millions.