YouTube as a platform is built upon a certain level of intimacy between creators and their viewers. But how can we maintain that intimacy without putting ourselves at risk?
In May of 2018, YouTuber, Elle Mills uploaded a video entitled “Burnt Out At 19.” In just one year Mills’ channel had gone from 15,000 to 1 million subscribers, an achievement that Mills described as “her life-long dream.” Despite this outpouring of support and success, Elle Mills’ mental health began to decline rapidly as the burnout set in. This intense burnout eventually culminated in a breakdown that Mills documented and uploaded to her channel. The video received an outpouring of support from viewers and fellow creators, and while it remains jarring and difficult to watch at points, seeing these kinds of public breakdowns from popular YouTubers is nothing new.
A conflation of public and private
On YouTube, anyone can invite strangers to see the most intimate details of their life with little consequence. A viewer can express concern, but they cannot act upon it outside of posting a tweet or comment. In a second videoposted to Elle Mills’ channel describing the aftermath of her breakdown, Mills confesses to using YouTube as a way to be vulnerable and get her feelings out, without having to confront potentially concerned friends and family members.
For years creators have made YouTube their personal diary but in reality, YouTube can only serve that purpose to a certain extent. Our most vulnerable thoughts do not always need as broad of an audience as YouTube provides. No one can deny that YouTube is an outlet for expression, but it may not always be our healthiest outlet, particularly when the need to talk about struggles on YouTube supersedes the need to do the same with close friends. Expressing vulnerability online may feel relieving at the moment a video is posted, but it is important that we remember it is not a long term solution to suffering.
So should we avoid opening up to our audiences online? Not at all! When vulnerability is handled with care, it can be incredibly rewarding. Mental illness often preys on a person’s feelings of isolation, so when individuals learn that they are not alone, they become more likely to seek help. YouTube videos about mental health often play an important role in breaking down the cycles of stigma and fostering more honest and authentic communicationamong viewers.
Should we avoid opening up to our audiences online?
Not at all!
The difficult question becomes: How do we care for ourselves and our viewers when wanting to be publicly vulnerable?
The first step, as with most things in life, is to check in with yourself. Talking to friends, family, or even a therapist, can help give you an idea of if you are ready to be publicly vulnerable. Ask yourself if you are doing well enough to talk from a place of clarity about the subject. When creators fail to do this they can sometimes inadvertently model behavior that is harmful without realizing the example they have set. Giving difficult situations the time they require before discussing them online can help prevent this. Before a person can speak honestly about their struggles, they must first understand what exactly they struggle with, otherwise, you run the risk of normalizing harm instead of encouraging your audience to ask for help.
Where expressing vulnerability can feel empowering to some, it can also open a creator up to large amounts of hate and scrutiny. By being vulnerable online, a YouTuber relinquishes a certain amount of control over their personal narrative. By definition, vulnerability comes at the price of letting your guard down and potentially facing criticism as a result. This is important to keep in mind prior to making a video public. Ask yourself if you feel like sharing this information online will be a healthy choice in the long term. Just because opening up about struggles with depression may help viewers in need of guidance, does not mean that it should come at the cost of a creator’s own mental health.
Remember that it is always okay to step away from comments after posting. Taking time to blacklist specific words before posting a video that could potentially inspire hate can sometimes help protect a creator’s comments section from becoming overrun with trolls.
Guidance from other creators
If you’re looking for inspiration, there are plenty of YouTubers out there who are known for their more vulnerable content.
Connor Manning is a creator who is mostly known for their vlogs where they give advice and talk about mental health. With videos such as “Hi, I’m Connor. I’m Still a Drug Addict.” and “SMASH That Like Button if You’re Feeling Lost,” Manning approaches the most sensitive subjects with unparalleled compassion and tenderness.
In the age of the internet, vulnerability is our most powerful tool, so long as we treat ourselves with the respect and kindness we deserve.