Imagine this! You are scrolling your Instagram feed, and suddenly you come across a post from a famous celebrity, detailing her mental health struggles. The post is met with a variety of responses from the online community, you see several negative comments in the comment section like,
“You are sadfishing. Suddenly I feel so sad for you, for fishing people’s attention with your sappy story.”
“Stop trying to gain people’s sympathy by your emotionally-charged post. Somebody else also has depression, but they never resort to attention-seeking behaviour like you.”
“Lol. You are a joke.”
Generally, attention-seeking has a negative connotation.
For example, what will be your reaction, if you see your Facebook friend posting a picture of her new branded handbag, branded clothes, branded everything; every single day?
Or…what will be your reaction, when you see a young boy, throwing a tantrum in front of his parents, in the alley selling toys in the supermarket?
Or…what do you think of a person who posts a photo of himself crying in black and white filter in Instagram, with the caption #Depression #Breakingupwithmygirlfriend #Iloveherstill #Selfcare ?
What is the first label to this behaviour that comes to your mind?
Perhaps each of us will have a different take on each scenario described above.
However, in this article, I would highlight, for the lack of better term, some of the “attention-seeking” behaviour that may actually be rooted from having depression:
- You use significantly more first person singular pronoun when posting some stories on the internet or during verbal communication
Psych2goers, notice the pronouns your loved one uses around you or when they are posting something online.
A research published in Clinical Psychological Science, has revealed the linguistic features that people with depression usually use. This study involves a massive data text analysis of 64 different online mental health forums, examining over 6,400 members. It is found that those who exhibit symptoms of depression significantly tend to use more first person singular pronouns, like “me”, “myself”, and “I”, and fewer second and third pronouns. This suggests that people with depression are more focused on themselves and have less connection with others.
So, when you read a post of someone, detailing their struggles with frequent usage of singular pronouns, there is a probability that they are struggling with depression, rather than trying to seek attention.
2. You gravitate towards using “absolutist words”
“I am always a failure.”
“Nothing has ever gone right for me.”
“I feel completely at a loss with my life.”
Psych2goers, let’s examine the above phrases. What do you notice about them?
The same research (as briefly stated in point 1) also stated that people with anxiety and depression gravitate towards using “absolutist words”; which represent absolute magnitudes or probabilities, such as “always”, “nothing”, or “completely”. This is perhaps due to the fact that depressed people often view the world through black or white lens, thus this is manifested in their style of language.
3. You lash out on social media
Your best friend has just been accepted as an intern in a big conglomerate company. He is actually having personal issues with his supervisor and seniors, causing him to lash out, post insults and lament about his condition on his anonymous Twitter profile. You know your best friend is not a complainer, during his university years he has always been the hard-worker and always the one in the friend group who motivates the others to develop positive thinking habits.
There are some depressed people who utilize their social media profile to vent out their problems and frustrations. Perhaps they use it as a form of “online journal” and a source of catharsis.
According to an article written by Duckie May who lives with Bipolar Disorder and Borderline Personality Disorder,
“I need their attention. I need their words of encouragement. I need them to tell me that I’m wrong. That I am a good friend. That my brain is lying and I am a good mom. That my life is worth living and that better days are ahead. I need those around me to remind me that good times are coming.
I seek the attention of those around me because their words help battle my thoughts. They argue with my logic, or lack of. Their encouragement tells my brain to shut up. Their love squashes my self-hate. Their attention starves my negative thoughts of belief and support. Their words save me.”
4. You get involved in self-harm behaviour
During one of your routine phone conversations with your mum, she suddenly discloses to you, “Your aunt Maria called me the other day. She was crying throughout our conversation. She said she was so devastated when she found self-harming marks on your cousin Jake. I think Jake is seeking attention, don’t you think so?”
According to a booklet published by the Mental Health Foundation UK, 10% of young people get involved in self-harming behaviour. In other words, it is likely that at least two young people in every secondary school classroom have self-harmed at some time. However, we need to actually reframe our perspective on those people who self-harm. It is important to note that self-harm is neither a suicide attempt nor a cry for attention. It can actually be a method that some people resort to, in order to cope with overwhelming and distressing thoughts or feelings. We should never make light of any self-harm behaviour, no matter the underlying reason behind it.
5. You talk about depression very often and very openly
“Did you know, that famous YouTuber, *** has published a new video on her YouTube channel. She opened up about her depression and the ways she tries to overcome that. At some point, she cried in front of the camera.”
“Urghh. Maybe she is trying to gain more followers.”
“Well, I don’t know about that, she seems very genuine while talking about her mental health journey. I think she is just trying to share the story because she wants to reduce the stigma of seeking help for mental health conditions. Perhaps she wants to help her followers to seek the professional help that they need.”
With the many devastating issues happening around the globe as a result of the pandemic, we discover more and more people are having mental health issues. According to the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there is a 5.1% rise in the percentage of adults with recent symptoms of anxiety or a depressive disorder from August 2020 to February 2021, whereas the percentage of those reporting an unmet mental health care need increased significantly from 9.2% to 11.7%. With the rise of these mental health conditions among the general public, it is therefore important to raise people’s awareness regarding this issue so that they can seek the appropriate help that they should get.
As with many other human behaviours, attention-seeking exists on a spectrum. Let’s take an example of people struggling with mental health issues. On one hand, it’s completely natural for these people to call for help especially if they are clueless on what should be their next step of action. These people seek the attention from people around them, either online or offline, in hope to receive words of encouragement to battle their negative thoughts. On the other side of the spectrum, attention-seeking can seem to be over-the-top, overly dramatic, and are taken to extremes. People who exhibit excessive attention-seeking behaviour and want to be the centre of attention consistently over time; they most probably are having histrionic personality disorder (but of course a few other criteria as listed in DSM-V need to be fulfilled, in order to be diagnosed to have one). These people with pathological attention-seeking behaviour are most often regarded as “drama queens”, however the real issue is that they are struggling to be by themselves and to have an interpersonal relationship; which can consequently manifest itself in the form of depression.
So, Psych2goers, it’s therefore important to realize that sometimes, depression and attention-seeking behaviour are not mutually exclusive, it can exist simultaneously in a person. The final take away for all of us is to realize that there is a reason behind each behaviour that is portrayed by a person, and it is highly recommendable for us to suspend our judgement. Apart from that, if you are close to a person who is exhibiting attention-seeking behaviour and this person is implicitly or explicitly posting that they need help for their mental health condition, you can always have a conversation with your loved one from a place of love, invite them for an open and honest communication. If they are open to it, advise them to seek help from mental health professionals.
Johnstone, T., & Al-Mosaiwi, M. (2018, January 5). In an Absolute State: Elevated use of absolutist words is a Marker specific to anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation – MOHAMMED Al-mosaiwi, Tom JOHNSTONE, 2018. SAGE Journals. Retrieved September 22, 2021, from https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/2167702617747074.
May, D. (2021, September 22). To those who think i’m ‘seeking attention’ when i’m depressed. The Mighty. Retrieved September 22, 2021, from https://themighty.com/2019/01/post-on-facebook-twitter-when-depressed/.
Mental Health Foundation UK. (n.d.). The truth about self-harm. Retrieved September 22, 2021.
Vahration, A., Blumberg, S. J., Terlizi, E. P., & Schiller, J. S. (2021, April 1). Symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder and use of mental health care among adults during the Covid-19 Pandemic – United states, August 2020–February 2021. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved September 22, 2021, from https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/70/wr/mm7013e2.htm.