Reality TV presenter Caroline Flack, 40, was laid to rest earlier this week having died by suicide in February.
Now Jake Mills, founder of national charity Chasing the Stigma, claims her tragic death has resonated so widely because of the ‘guilt’ and ‘responsibility’ many secretly harbour over her demise.
Jake, 31, has now backed calls for the end of anonymous social media accounts, saying it’s a ‘small step’ that could save many lives. And he’s urging social media users not to let the online ‘#bekind’ movement become nothing more than empty platitudes.
Jake, who was speaking at Liverpool Hope University as part of University Mental Health Day, explains: ‘Caroline Flack’s death was truly shocking for a great many people – and not just because people necessarily liked her, or watched Love Island, but because they felt guilty. People felt like they played a part in her tragic death.
‘That’s the biggest difference between Caroline’s heartbreaking story and other high profile suicide’s we’ve seen in recent years. Robin Williams death had a real impact, because people struggled to come to terms with the fact that someone could take their own life when they appeared so outwardly happy.
‘But Caroline’s death is different. People feel responsible for it.Will we learn lessons from it? I truly hope so, but I’m not so sure. There’s lots of new social media platitudes about being ‘kind’ but I’m sceptical as to whether anything will really change.’
Jake says more needs to be done to stop social media trolls in their tracks. He adds: ‘It’s not the sole reason that people might struggle with their mental health, and there are clearly a host of other reasons as to why that might happen.
‘But we do need to address the effect social media is having on individuals because there is a problem – and social media firms can do much more to prevent these mob mentality ‘pile-ins’.
‘For me, companies like Twitter have shied away from the issue, when it’s completely within their power to take small steps that will make a difference. One of those small steps is simply banning anonymous accounts. It’s my view that everyone should have to be verified in order to have a social media account.
‘Of course, there are people out there who are quite happy to be identified while saying some horrific things online, but it’s a move that would still get rid of many of the trolls who are impacting on the mental health of others.’
One of Chasing the Stigma’s primary focuses is the Hub of Hope, an online portal and app where people can type in their postcode and see all of the services on offer in their area.
Addressing concerns about national mental health ‘awareness’ days, he explains: ‘Any awareness day that gets people talking about mental health is important. But that’s not fixing the problem. In some ways it actually makes us vulnerable. Awareness has skyrocketed while services to meet that demand have stagnated.
‘People are seeking help, and they’re typically going to see their GP, putting pressure on local Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs). It’s not unusual for people to be waiting 18 months to see a counsellor, particularly within the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS). But there are many thousands of places people can be signposted to for care, but we found that people simply don’t know about them.
‘And that’s the real issue. If you’re on a waiting list at one place, realise that you can potentially go somewhere else where there isn’t a waiting list. It’s about changing the perception of what mental health help and support really is.’