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Nikki Mattocks: "Social media is a blessing and a curse"

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At the age of six, Nikki Mattocks was telling her mother she didn’t want to be on this planet anymore. But when life gave her lemons, she threw them in the bin and became a mental health advocate. A story from the UK on youth, pain, recovery and the dangers of social media. 

Cafébabel: Could you tell us a bit more about yourself and your story?

Nikki Mattocks: I started experiencing mental ill health when I was six years old, although I did not realise it at the time. I was experiencing bullying and abuse, and thought this meant I was a horrible ugly child. I remember telling my mum that I did not want to be on this planet anymore. At age six you should be thinking about toys, not suicide. I was dismissed, and the bullying and abuse carried on. At 14, I experienced a traumatic event which led me to go on a downwards spiral. I was self-harming, hearing voices, abusing drugs and alcohol, having overdoses and tried to take my own life. Luckily, thanks to therapy, medication and life changes I am here today to tell my story. 

Cafébabel: When did you feel ready to share your own story and experiences with others?

Nikki Mattocks: When I was 16, someone gave me the opportunity to share my story at an event, and this is what changed things for me. I started to realise that people wanted to listen, I started to realise I could use my experiences to make a real difference, and I started to believe that I was worth something. I'm not the useless child that I felt like when I was six; I'm a powerful advocate making a real change. 

Then, when I started college, I could see people speaking out in the media such as celebrities. It started really small of course but people were receptive to my stories because many of them did not have someone to speak to. When someone finally does speak up, others feel more comfortable to do the same and that is how we can start a conversation about mental health.

Today, I study mental health nursing at the University of Surrey in England while being a mental health advocate. I work with various mental health charities to give speeches about my experiences as well as talking to TV and radio outlets. I also started a peer support group called Evolve for young people, so that people have somewhere to go if they feel alone. 

Cafébabel: What does it mean for you, being a mental health advocate?

Nikki Mattocks: Being a mental health advocate means willing to fight for the rights people should have when they experience mental health problems, or to help them know more about these rights. It is also about raising awareness around mental health issues. As a mental health ambassador, I want to help put an end to mental health stigma. It can be difficult sometimes because it can feel like a lot of responsibilities but it is worth it.

Cafébabel: Did social media have an impact on your mental health?

Nikki Mattocks: To me, social media is a blessing and a curse. I was so excited to get an account when I was 10, but it did not fulfil my expectations. It did not make me feel less lonely, it just isolated me even more. That has not changed either. A couple of years ago, I was in a relationship with someone–his friends were happy and supportive and I loved it. But when that relationship ended, they used [social media] as a weapon. His friends posted statuses calling me ugly, a dog and a whore, and it made the breakup a lot harder than it needed to be, and it left me feeling like people did not want me around. It was a difficult time.

I am a firm believer that the number of likes, followers and re-tweets you have does not and never will mean anything important. I see people becoming upset if they do not get as many notifications as they want, and it is devastating because we value social media but we do not value ourselves, and this is something I want to change. 

Cafébabel: And nearly 90% of European young people aged 16-24 use the Internet and social media every day…

Nikki Mattocks: Yes, and I still use social media every day so I can surely relate to that. I used to be much more dependent on it. I used to look at social media to find out how valuable I was as a person. Now, I try to use social media to share positive messages, for peer support and raising awareness on topics I care about.

Cafébabel: Recent studies have found that social networks such as Facebook and Twitter are likely to have a harmful impact on young people's mental health. Do you see them as a threat or an opportunity for your wellbeing?

Nikki Mattocks: Social media can be a threat and an opportunity. It is almost impossible to avoid, so it is about the use you make of it. No one should ever use it to know what they are worth, or think that their number of likes make them valuable as a person: it has a strong and negative impact on your own mental health.   I have seen many situations that can worsen one’s mental health, where people say unhelpful and harmful things in comments.

At the same time, there is also a lot of positive messaging around mental health lately and I would say it is about monitoring what is being posted on social media, to make sure we can identify bullying and problems. Social networks can be used as a great support to communicate with others but it is also very important not to rely on it too much as it can become dangerous very quickly.  

Cafébabel: How can we help protect young people from cyber-bullying and the risk of suicide online? What can make Internet a safer space for young people?

Nikki Mattocks: The problem with the Internet is that it is too anonymous.  When someone starts bullying someone else, there are no consequences for it. How is that possible? Bullies should be held responsible for what they do online. There needs to be more monitoring of comments posted online. It is also important to increase emotional awareness in schools and to encourage more discussions about mental health and the use of social media in school settings.

Cafébabel: Do you think online suicide prevention tools and mental health support programmes implemented by Facebook, Google and others are helpful?

Nikki Mattocks: It is really good and encouraging to see that companies are doing their parts in online suicide prevention. Everyone has a part to play in mental health promotion and prevention to tackle suicide and cyber-bullying online. It is great to see that companies are now listening and doing something about it, but we should all have a responsibility in preventing cyber-bullying and suicide online. Schools systems, health systems, governments and companies: everybody has a role to play. Online and offline. 

Cafébabel: What advice would you give to young Europeans who have experienced cyberbullying or might be going through difficult times?

Nikki Mattocks: Talk to people, talk to someone you trust: your friends, or a family member. It is important to report negative comments and behaviours. Do not stay on your own. Please do not look at social media to see what you are worth. Likes and followers do not mean anything since you are an amazing person with or without hundreds of likes and followers. Everyone does that but it does not tell much about someone’s value as a person. The more things are being reported the more social media be helpful in tackling cyberbullying and risk of suicide.

Cafébabel: What about you? How you are feeling today?

Nikki Mattocks: Things are a million times better than what they were. Obviously, I am still human–there are bad days. I am achieving things that people thought I would never be able to do. I am living my life the way I want to despite having mental health problems. To tackle bullying and face difficult times, the most important is to talk about it, to be open about. Learn to love yourself, to value yourself, learn not to depend on social media. The number of likes, the number of followers does not matter, does not say anything about your value. 

Nikki Mattocks is 20 years old today. She works to help end mental health stigmas and raise awareness about mental ill health. In sharing her own story, she encouraged thousands of young people to do the same. 


The author of this article works for Mental Health Europe, the largest European network representing mental health service users, professionals and service providers across Europe.   

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