Combating Mental Health and Substance Use Misinformation on the Internet

Combating Mental Health And Substance Use Misinformation On The Internet

Table of Contents

Online spaces can be a source of misinformation on all kinds of topics. Stigmas, myths, and lies can spread like wildfire. Clients and counselors alike need to take the steps they can to make sure individuals get the facts straight.

Misinformation on Social Media

If there is anything the last ten years has demonstrated, it is that social media platforms can be a haven for misinformation on various topics, from the political to the scientific. Some platforms have tried to stop the spread by adding fact-checking to posts or slowing down a person’s ability to share. Despite these efforts, misinformation still reaches thousands.

Even political leaders and large news networks willingly publish misleading information, often to push a policy that works in their favor. For example, in February, news sites published articles claiming President Joe Biden planned to give out free “crack pipes” to people with addiction in the inner cities. In reality, the bill promoted a harm reduction program that allows for safe and supervised usage to prevent overdoses.

This distinction is important because misinformation about addiction and mental health can influence policy and its ability to help the addiction recovery community. Media often does push harmful stigmas and misunderstandings about programs meant to help those who need it—whether they intend to or not.

Lies That Harm Lives

Countless myths exist about mental health and addiction. Many myths demonize those with addiction or cause them to feel shame. These beliefs only work to keep addiction in the dark with no basis.

People might be afraid to seek treatment out of fear of what people will think. Others isolate themselves and hide their illness, internalizing these stigmas. Isolation and shame work together to keep a person from getting better and living their best life. The only cure for misinformation is informed education.

Know the Facts

If an individual works with people with an addiction or has loved ones with addiction, it can be helpful to learn as much as they can about the illness. They can read about the science and treatment options, listen to other people’s stories of their addiction, and even learn about the history of addiction in the United States.

They can hear different perspectives and experiences outside of their own culture. Having well-rounded knowledge about the subject can make it easier to discuss with others. Knowing the facts can help them distinguish false information from what is true.

Check Your Sources

Whenever sharing on social media, or reading articles online, it is important to check the source. While the media is expected to remain factual, they often embellish details or remove context to get a story. Headlines are often misleading, and information can be picked and chosen to fit a narrative. The story might be missing the entire picture. The best option is to find the original source, if possible.

The Truth Above All Else

Ultimately, what matters the most is the truth. Everyone will have an opinion, but their view might result from misinformation. Always ask questions. If an individual is talking with someone who has a different opinion, it is vital to ask how they came to that idea. There is always a chance that person might be wrong. Being presented with the facts and the sources to back it up can help mitigate false information.

Correct With Respect

Online spaces can become a battlefield. People are more likely to be hostile on the internet than face to face. People sometimes forget that what happens online can still have real-life consequences. This truth is applicable for strangers just as much as friends and family.

Ignorance can be frustrating, but it is important to remember that everyone is flawed. An individual may be ignorant regarding a subject, and they need to learn the facts. When discussing mental health and addiction, it is okay to correct the other person respectfully when they are unaware of the facts. They are human beings, too, after all.

Face to Face Conversation Takes the Gold

While it is imperative to dispel misinformation online, the best way to educate is in person. It is easier to communicate face to face. There is less hostility, and it is much easier to read a person’s body language and tone. People tend to be less defensive than online and are usually more willing to listen. If possible, individuals should try to continue the discussion in person, maybe over a meal.

Don’t Get Defeated

The frustrating part about dismantling misinformation is that it is an enormous task that cannot be accomplished alone. It is the effort that counts when dealing with those who are misinformed. Some people can be swayed by the correct information, while others might remain ignorant. It is not their fault if the person chooses ignorance. The important part is that they did not add to it.

It is said, “don’t believe everything you read on the internet,” but as we become more digital, online spaces can become a haven for misinformation. The internet can create knowledge about substance use more accessible, but it can also spread myths and misinformation faster than before. If your client sees incorrect information, encourage them to do their best to diffuse it and discuss the facts instead. Some people are less likely to listen than others. However, by sticking to the facts and educating the people in their life, they can do their part to end the stigma and pave the way to a better future.

They will not be able to stop misinformation on your own, which is why we must work together to create a better, and more accurate understanding of mental health and substance use. Jaywalker Lodge in scenic Colorado is dedicated to sticking to the facts. To learn more, call us at (866) 529-9255

author avatar
Stefan Bate, MA, LAC, CCTP Chief Clinical Officer
Stefan Bate, BA, MA, LAC holds a Master's Degree in Applied Psychology from Regis University and is a Licensed Addiction Counselor in the state of Colorado. Stefan has wide-ranging experience in the field of addiction recovery including: working as a recovery coach, therapist, and program director.

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