As early as 13 years old, Mhairi Potts-Wyatt from London had already contemplated taking her own life.
She didn’t even know that was called ‘suicide’ at the time, nor did she understand she was battling depression, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. But somehow, Potts-Wyatt made it to 21 years old. And she has a Facebook page to thank for it.
The Artidote is a social media community founded on Facebook in 2015 by Jovanny Ferreyra. With close to two million followers, the page, as its name suggests, uses art as a means of healing and improving mental health. Each post features a piece of artwork coupled with a quote either from followers, someone anonymous, or a famous personality.
Potts-Wyatt, who is in the process of being diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, joined the community from its inception and found comfort amid strangers she met online – more than the people she had physically around her.
She told Westminster World: “That’s the whole idea behind The Artidote, we’re all complete strangers but we’re all in it together. I think some people don’t get it and they think you’re doing all this work and it’s just a social media page but it’s just so much more than that. Every time you engage with it or talk to someone from the community, it really has this significant impact.”
Potts-Wyatt is not alone. Two million Londoners suffer from poor mental health annually, while a hundred thousand children and young people experience mental health issues, according to data from the London government.
Mental health is tackled in the city through Thrive London, a movement supported by mayor Sadiq Khan and the London Health Board. It strives to make London a zero-suicide city and maximise the potential of children and young people, among other objectives.
Despite other options, Potts-Wyatt prefers going on The Artidote and using social media to help with her mental health because she finds the set-up of connecting anonymously more comfortable. What’s more, it’s free.
“It’s saving lives literally. It’s not just a case of sharing and off-loading. It’s literally burdens that otherwise would kill you, so it’s huge,” she said.
Video by Jane Bracher
Saving lives through social media
With social media platforms such as Instagram having the worst effects on young people, The Artidote is a bright spot amid the negatives. Where many see false fronts and impersonality on social media, Ferreyra saw opportunity for a rare kind of connection.
Ferreyra, 30 and a tour guide by day in Munich, told Westminster World: “Social media has this horrible reputation of being distracting, of being the opposite of social. For me this was so special, this was a way of hacking social media and actually making people connect – not only to other people but to themselves.”
The real power of The Artidote’s community became apparent when it expanded to mobile photo platform Snapchat. Ferreyra launched a concept called #SnapThoughts, which is essentially people posting what’s on their mind coupled with a photo of what they are currently seeing.
The posts were innocent at first, and then it became deeper and more personal. Things took a turn when some proclaimed plans of possibly taking their own lives. In one instance, the community discouraged a girl in India from committing suicide after she found out she was pregnant, and was fearing shame from her family.
Ferreyra said: “I got messages like: ‘Hey I was about to jump from the bridge, I was about to pull the trigger, I was about to kill myself but there was something that I saw on your page that made me reconsider. I’m still here because of that, so thank you’.”
Potts-Wyatt also literally saved someone’s life through The Artidote when she saw a post that read: “In three days, I’m going to kill myself.” It turned out to be from a 15-year-old girl from Texas. Despite her worries, Potts-Wyatt stayed up with the girl every night and talked her out of taking her life. They haven’t stopped speaking since, and have gotten matching semicolon tattoos with a plan to meet up someday in the works.
Potts-Wyatt is in a much better place these days – she has her own blog, where she strives to be ‘vulnerably honest’, and her friend across the Atlantic is alive. In more ways than one, Potts-Wyatt is very much alive, too. She now has a tattoo of The Artidote’s bull logo on her torso as a reminder of what she’s been through and why she’s still here.
“The Artidote brought me through to this point where I’m a graduate and I can carry on with my life and I can go out and do something in the world,” she said. “It felt like a force of good, things were working in my favour after that. I felt less depressed and less suicidal.”
(Subbing: Martin Steers)