Social media and mental health: 'We are more than our profile pictures'

social media vs reality

Most people present their best selves on social media. But what about their whole selves?

"The photo on the left is me on a 'normal' day and on the right is the side of me nobody sees," wrote Pete Laws in a Facebook post Monday.

Laws, inspired by a stranger on the Internet, posted two selfies. One smiling, forming a heart with his fingers, pre-anxiety attack. The other, with his hand over face, one eye shut, post-anxiety attack. Laws went on to describe his symptoms: breathlessness, dizziness, stomach pains, headaches and more.

He also detailed his frustration: "Not enough people are aware of the destruction it can cause somebody's life if they don't get the right support," he wrote.

From Instagram to online dating, people are constantly posting photos that reveal just the "highlights" of their life and their looks.

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A woman named Amber Smith bucked that trend earlier this month when she opted to reveal a more well-rounded version of herself -- anxiety and all. Smith wrote that while she may physically look OK, in reality, she's "battling a monster inside my head every single day."

Her intention was to remove the stigma associated with mental health and make social media a platform that's a bit more real.

Some have started to push back against a curated version of reality that doesn't reflect a person's ups and downs.

Take Essena O'Neill, an Australian teen who had more than 500,000 followers consuming her cheerful YouTube, Instagram and Facebook posts.

But that wasn't reality and it drove O'Neill to a tipping point. She went back and edited her posts to describe how she actually felt when posting the pictures. "Social media is an illusion," she wrote.

According to George Nitzburg, a research fellow at Mount Sinai, that's a very real danger of platforms like Instagram and Facebook (FB).

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"It's definitely social comparison where you feel other people are living happier, better lives than you are or who look better, feel better than you do," said Nitzburg at TalkSpace's Future of Therapy conference last week.

The reality is that most aren't as happy as their smiling selfies would have you believe. One in five people are suffering from mental health issues, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, but the vast majority aren't seeking help.

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"Mental health is not a sexy topic, the same way cancer is not a sexy topic," said Roni Frank, cofounder of Talkspace, a text therapy startup that hosted the conference.

But people are hungry to talk about it.

"Well done for standing up and telling the world about this," commented a woman on Facebook. "Too many people hide mental health and it's not right."

"This needs to be a thing. We all need to show the world how mental illness affects people on different levels and that we are more than our profile pictures depicting our 'perfect' lives," said a different woman.

Support for Smith and Laws also came in full force.

"I literally have hundreds of unread messages from people, that it is getting a little overwhelming as I want to reply to you all right now," Smith wrote in a separate post on Facebook.

Laws, on the other hand, posted a screenshot of his Facebook friend requests: 462.

"I promise I will accept you all just need time to sort out my privacy settings," he wrote.

Laws and Smith did not immediately respond to CNNMoney's requests for comment.

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