When singer Sinead O’Connor recently went missing and was considered to be suicidal, many fans were sympathetic online. However, many more people took to social media in a far less sympathetic manner.
A leading psychologist has now warned that the barrage of negative comments in social media shows that our culture has learned nothing about mental health. In fact, Dublin-based counselor Owen Connolly has described the huge number of vilifying comments relating to O’Connor’s story as “shocking.”
The Inquisitr reported that on Sunday, O’Connor had gone for a bicycle ride in the Chicago suburb of Wilmette and had not returned. Officials were searching for the Irish singer, who was considered to be suicidal.
Reportedly also on Sunday, O’Connor had used her public Facebook page to discuss what appeared to be a very private legal issue relating to her children, which raised even more concern over the singer’s well being.
Sinead O’Connor’s mental illness should not be a celebrity scandal – IrishCentral: IrishCentralSinead O’Conno… https://t.co/jRwIGt6Yog
— ukmentalhealth (@ukmentalhealth) May 18, 2016
While Sinead was missing for 24 hours, she was eventually found, safe and well, but in the meantime social media was rife with negative or mocking comments about the “Nothing Compares 2 U” singer, like the following posts on Twitter:
So apparently Sinead O’Connor has gone missing? She’ll probably turn up in 7 hours and 15 days
— Scary Mary (@james_hynard) May 16, 2016
What’s the betting Sinead O’Connor has killed herself to get that last surge of attention she so desperately seeks 24/7
— Maria Travers (@ZonkedZombie88) May 16, 2016
Independent.ie quotes Connolly as saying, “We have learned nothing. We’re very good at vilifying people, particularly people like Sinead, we can attack them. They go through the most awful time in their lives and they need to be comforted rather than attacked.”
He went on to say that O’Connor has been having a “particularly harsh time” in her life, explaining that while people can appear very powerful on stage and their performances can be amazing, it can be very different for them off the stage.
Connolly said that people don’t understand and prefer to “have a go at her,” saying, “I’m shocked at what’s been happening online to her.”
— JOE.ie (@JOEdotie) May 17, 2016
Explaining that this makes matters worse for the person concerned, he said he doesn’t see anyone “putting an arm around Sinead O’Connor,” but instead people say awful things and it drives the person away.
Reportedly, in Ireland there are many mental health campaigns, often led by celebrities, and some are having some success, but he says a change in attitudes towards mental issues is not showing on the ground.
“We are doing absolutely nothing for mental health. We don’t have the provisions for mental health in this country. It’s like a puzzle we don’t want to know. We have lots of fundraising happening, but we don’t see things happening on the ground.”
According to Connolly, people like O’Connor need comforting. While mental health patients get medicine and doctors, this aspect is lacking, and he says people are not being heard properly.
“Kindness is the only way. We forget that that’s the most important thing in any relationship – it’s putting your arm around them.”
Dr. Arthur Cassidy, a social media psychologist in Ireland who specializes in celebrities and internet trolls, agrees with Connolly.
There is no denying that Sinead O’Connor is a public figure. O’Connor has 644,000 followers on Facebook and tends to use social media as a forum for the problems in her life. However, this does not mean she is any less entitled to being treated with empathy and care.
According to Cassidy, many social media users appear to feel it is expected of them to comment negatively, especially relating to celebrities. He said that many of these users make pejorative remarks about people, especially celebrities, online and that it is “grossly unethical for people online to make statements about people who have gone missing, to make assumptions about a character.”
As reported by Irish Central, Cassidy went on to say he has spent much time this year dealing with trolls attacking celebrities and that we must remember that words can be very dangerous, especially online.
He says education is required in schools in order to teach children “learned optimism” and about mental health and how to use social media with awareness.
“We have to demonstrate through social media our empathy and concern for those who have to face the consternation of media attention.”
Cassidy explained that people fail to understand mental health and the whole idea of suicide, as each case is very individual. He added that we tend to let down our guard online and end up saying things we wouldn’t normally say face to face, totally unmindful of the fact that what we say will be hurtful to the victim.
“Everyone is human and we all have varying degrees of physical and mental health. We should be using Facebook constructively rather than destructively, and we need to be supporting celebrities.”
Irish Central reports that O’Connor herself spoke out about how hard it is for people – and celebrities in particular – to openly talk about their mental illness.
In an interview following Robin Williams’ suicide, O’Connor reportedly opened up to Sky’s Entertainment Week, saying, “When you admit that you are anything that could be mistakenly, or otherwise, perceived as ‘mentally ill’ you know that you are going to get treated like dirt so you don’t go tell anybody, and that’s why people die.”
[Photo by Jason Kempin/Getty Images]