Awareness Campaigns are funny things. Thanks to social media, it should be easier than ever before for us all to have awareness of conditions, but I can’t help but feel that there are so many ‘campaigns’ that the ones we really should be paying attention to are getting lost on our newsfeeds.
‘Retweet for Awareness’
An awareness campaign is supposed to tell you something useful, that you didn’t know before and make you consider it so that you can remember it in future. Nowadays, everyone knows someone with the more recurring conditions which appear on newsfeeds, such as cancer, autism, mental health conditions like anxiety and depression… So a simple ‘retweet/share for X awareness’ is pointless: If people already know that the condition exists and that people are fighting something every day, and they haven’t changed their sensitivities already, they’re unlikely to. All it does is give them the impression that they’re doing ‘something to help’ those with the condition by hitting share. That’s not awareness. Better campaigns are the ones which highlight the symptoms to look out for, promote self-exams or which actually tell you how to help someone with a condition.
Does a selfie actually help?
The ALS Ice-Bucket Challenge was good at promoting awareness for ALS in that it gave people a very slight glimpse as to what it might feel like to have ALS, and encouraged people to donate to its cause. ‘Campaigns’ which say ‘take a selfie of…. to promote…’ don’t necessarily have the same impact, and have even less if the participants don’t donate to the charity after taking the selfie. How does taking a selfie compare to someone with cancer? It really doesn’t- you not wearing make-up isn’t remotely the same as someone having to get up and face chemo. I was trying to think of something people could do to help them understand what Adrenal Insufficiency feels like, but ‘take a selfie after not sleeping for a week, then spin around on the spot’ campaign doesn’t really sound as appealing as a make-upless selfie! That said, there are some successful selfie campaigns which will potentially reach people in need- the latest one is to encourage men to talk about mental health by posting a selfie with the ‘ok’ sign. It then becomes tricky to spot the positive campaigns from the not so helpful.
It trivialises some illnesses
Lots of people have asthma. So much so, that you regularly hear people saying ‘it’s just asthma’ and then getting complacent and leaving their inhalers at home. Just because it’s common, doesn’t mean that it can’t have severe consequences. Or you hear people throwing in phrases like ‘you’re so OCD’ into every day conversation. Nobody would dream of saying ‘you’re so autistic’ as a joke, so why trivialise other illnesses? Sometimes, the more awareness campaigns exist, the more ‘trivial’ people find it. Which then increases the need for an awareness campaign, and therefore makes the way awareness is presented more important.
When an illness is condensed into a brief paragraph on a Facebook status, it over simplifies the condition, which might make it easier for others to understand, but it also diminishes it slightly. Someone with crippling anxiety who can’t leave the house is not in the same position as someone who has anxiety with triggers. So you sometimes get quite militant comments from those with the more ‘severe’ versions of the condition and then aggressive ‘we still find it hard’ responses from others. Illness is hard. Some people are going to have it ‘worse’ than others, but it’s also relative- people have good days and bad days. We should be supporting each other rather than arguing about who has it worse.
Sometimes the information in these campaigns is incorrect, depending on who starts them off. I saw a counter campaign by a charity about counting the amount of times a baby kicks in pregnancy recently (the counter argument being it’s changes in movement which should be tracked, not how much the baby kicks), which wouldn’t have been quite so necessary if the counting the kicks idea hadn’t been so heavily shared. Advice can also change and be out of date. Think about the amount of times you see a shared post saying ‘it’s 92 days to Christmas, share if you’re excited’ and it’s nowhere near 92 days to Christmas. Another example is cortisol and Adrenal Fatigue. Adrenal Fatigue is a condition aimed at middle-aged women who are suffering from burnout and there are all sorts of wondrous (and expensive) remedies you can take to correct your cortisol level. The problem is, Adrenal Fatigue is not actually a recognised condition by endocrine societies in most countries. So where has this supposed condition come from, and why is it compared to Adrenal Insufficiency?
I’m speaking as someone who wishes there was more (read: any) awareness about my illness. So before you click share on the latest Facebook challenge in sharing awareness, please think:
- what’s the point of the campaign? Does it tell people useful information as to how to spot the signs? Does it give insight into what it feels like to have the condition?
- Where has this campaign come from? Is it a reliable charity or from a person with the condition?
- Is it accurate and up-to-date?
- Would it actually help someone with that condition? eg does it help us understand the condition more and the impact it has on people/their families? Or include a donation to a registered charity?
If you can say ‘no’ to those questions, think twice before sharing. Awareness is only good if it’s useful and accurate. If not, it just makes it more difficult for people living with the conditions to explain what they’re dealing with to other people. I’m not doubting anyone’s good intentions in wanting to raise awareness, but it’s really important that the awareness is doing the right thing 🙂