For every singular person, there are several that will share similar mindsets, feelings, and hobbies. This allows people to come together and form support networks. Many people have made support networks specifically for those that struggle with a mental health disorder. However, it is important to be aware of “echo chambers.”
Most groups are positive. They encourage people to open up about their mental health and to seek the help they need. Once people know that someone believes in them, it gives them the strength they need to push on to treatment. When these groups become toxic and hostile, they become what is known as an echo chamber.
What Is an Echo Chamber?
Groups are usually positive things to be a part of. However, sometimes these groups can eventually become dangerous if free thought is discouraged. When voices are silenced, it allows a loud minority to dictate what a group is allowed to think. Eventually, new members are barred from joining — known as “gatekeeping” — which isolates the original members further. The people who are left are then bullied into specific beliefs and opinions.
This is called an echo chamber when a group fully coincides with specific beliefs. They also outright refuse or becomes hostile to alternative thoughts.
How Does This Affect the Mental Health Field?
Echo chambers are dangerous because they perpetuate wrong and often toxic misinformation. This is often bullied into the group as fact, and any attempts to challenge them result in abusive tactics against them. Often, dissenters are alienated, mocked, or simply removed from the group together. This alone severely impacts the mental health of many people and can lead to depression and anxiety disorders.
When particularly loud groups gain traction, they can essentially gatekeep a community and prevent others from participating. An example is to claim that you don’t struggle with “real” post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) unless you are a war veteran. Such thinking outright invalidates a large portion of the population that struggles with PTSD for other reasons. This can cause people to question if their feelings are real and, as a result, never reach out for treatment. The result is people who already struggle with the stigma of a mental health disorder to feel further alienated. These people may never try to reach out for help.
A group leader may also encourage harmful ways to cope with a mental health condition. This can be anything from refusing to care for basic hygiene to committing various crimes, such as shoplifting. Many people do develop these coping methods, but these are recognized universally as harmful. People need to learn healthy and productive ways to cope with their symptoms. However, some groups may convince others that learning healthy coping skills are less effective than continuing with unhealthy ones.
It’s not that hard to see that such groups contribute greatly to further stigmatizing the mentally ill. Not only that, but it also discourages those that want help no longer seeking it.
How Do You Recognize and Escape an Echo Chamber?
Echo chambers can happen in real life, but they are more common in social media. The internet allows people to be anonymous, which can prompt someone to be more forceful about their beliefs than they would be in person. Here are a few ways you can recognize if you are in an echo chamber.
You Feel Unsafe Speaking Up
If at any point you feel as though you will be mocked or yelled at for speaking a differing opinion, you may be in an echo chamber. At the very least, it’s a toxic place to be. Nobody should feel afraid to speak their mind.
The Group Is Led by a Toxic De-facto Leader
Some people naturally gravitate towards being a leader. A good leader is someone who helps everyone feel welcome and valued in a group. Some leaders in a group may arise to help organize events. However, a leader is not someone who expects to be right at all times. If someone seems to be in charge of a group and they limit or outright remove alternate information, it’s a good sign to leave and move on.
The Use of Manipulation Tactics
Manipulation is a common tactic to force others to accept beliefs that they may usually not. If you start seeing people say things like, “If you believe this, you are a terrible person,” or “If you feel like this, you can’t have a mental health disorder,” there’s a good chance you are in an echo chamber.
Claims to Know More Than Trained Professionals
The only person who can make a proper diagnosis of any mental health conditions or suggest treatment are mental health professionals. Those that claim that they can diagnose or cure someone when they are not trained in the mental health field are best to be avoided. An example in recent news is the anti-vax movement, which often suggests using oils instead of medicine to treat medical ailments.
Everyone Feels and Looks the Same
Groups form because of common interests. If you see that people are being discouraged from speaking about other interests to become the same as others, you may be in an echo chamber. People are meant to be confronted with differences to be healthy, not to be the same.
If you notice one or more of these issues, you should leave the group. For online groups, you may need to block members from contacting you again should you decide to leave. This is because some echo chamber groups feel threatened by the dissent, and they may attempt to bully you back into the group. Do not give them the chance. You may also contact a mental health professional for advice on how to leave a toxic group and where to find a proper support group.
Finding a good support network can be a hard process, especially if you have been harmed before by toxic groups claiming to be in the best interest of your mental health. Here at Acera Health in Costa Mesa, California, we understand the problems that modern people face today. There is so much stigma and misinformation that it can be hard to tell what is right and what is wrong. Acera Health is proud to say that we can provide the support you need to not only help with a mental health disorder but to offer compassion as well. If you or someone you know is struggling with a mental health disorder and needs support, call (949) 647-4090 today.
Melody is a highly skilled proactive clinical administrator, with more than 17 years of experience serving the community in the behavioral health field.
Her clinical management career started in 2011 as a compliance manager and program director. In 2018, she became an executive as chief clinical officer (CCO). She is a seasoned licensed marriage & family therapist.