Wednesday 18 September 2019

'How Sinead O'Connor was vilified online shows that we have learned nothing on mental health'

Singer and songwriter Sinead O’Connor
Singer and songwriter Sinead O’Connor
Geraldine Gittens

Geraldine Gittens

The barrage of pejorative comments which appeared online after Sinead O'Connor went missing yesterday shows that our culture has learned nothing about mental health, a leading psychologist has warned.

Yesterday, police in Wilmette in Illinois issued an alert that Sinead O'Connor had not been seen since the morning before. While fans expressed concern for her welfare, many social media users were less than sympathetic.

Dublin-based counsellor Owen Connolly described the number of vilifying comments which appeared online as "shocking".

"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."

"Sinead O'Connor has been having a particularly harsh time. People like her can be very powerful on stage and they can be amazing, but it can be very different off the stage. People don't understand, and they prefer to have a go at her. I'm shocked at what's been happening online to her."

"I don't see anyone putting an arm around Sinead O'Connor. Instead, people say awful things and it drives [the person] away. People aren't being looked after."

Sinead O'Connor
Sinead O'Connor

Mr Connolly said that while mental health campaigns, often led by celebrities, are proliferating in Ireland and having success, a change in attitudes to 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."

"I see people all the time, people with anorexia, eating disorders, everything, and I don't know that these people get the comforting they need. They get medicine, they get doctors, they get everything like that thrown at them, but they don't get the comforting."

"No one seems to have the confidence to comfort. 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, and Irish social media psychologist who specialises in celebrities and internet trolls agrees.

He says many social media users seem to feel that it is expected of them that they comment negatively, especially in relation to celebrities.

"Those who write online have the propensity to make an compulsive reaction in relation to celebrities especially. They feel that there is an expectation for them to make a pejorative remark and it is grossly unethical for people online to make statements about people who have gone missing, to make assumptions about a character."

"I've spent much time this year dealing with trolls of celebs. I think we need to remember that words are very dangerous, and words can be very dangerous online."

Education is needed in schools to teach children "learned optimism", to teach them about mental health, and to help them to use social media with awareness, he says.

"We have to demonstrate through social media our empathy and concern for those who have to face the consternation of media attention."

"People fail to understand suicide and suicide ideation, because each case is very individual."

"We react online because we let down our guard. Once we go online we're saying things which we wouldn't always say. We're not mindful of the fact that what we say is going to be hurtful."

"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."

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