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Sadfishing: The New Phrase Taking Social Media by Storm

In October 2019, writer Rebecca Reid coined the term ‘sadfishing’, which refers to the act of looking for sympathy or attention by posting sensitive, emotional and personal material on social media platforms. The term was then referenced in ‘I’m a Celebrity, Get me out of here’ and it has become common terminology ever since. And we have all experienced this. We all know someone who has posted up on their social media that they’re having a difficult day, waiting and hoping to be bombarded with messages along the lines of 'you ok hun’ and ‘DM me’. However, the term angers others as it minimises mental illness and discombobulates the line between someone looking for attention and someone being mentally ill. Take celebrities for example. Justin Bieber was slated for arguably sad fishing in the post seen below as people attacked him by stating that he’s having a difficult day compared to some people who are genuinely depressed or suicidal. By labelling the term of sad fishing, this allows us to call out people for seeking attention rather than actual cries for help.

But the problem here is how do we know? Of course, it’s important that we understand that not everyone has a mental illness but everyone has mental health, so things can be going bad at anytime.

Lots of us sadfish sometimes, and that’s okay. Attention seeking is a perfectly legitimate thing. There’s nothing wrong with wanting attention.

— Rebecca Reid (@RebeccaCNReid) October 1, 2019

This then raises the question why the person posting would choose to express the state of their mental health publicly. It’s fine for celebrities as they’ll get the responses they need off their super fans. But non-famous teenagers are almost trying to measure their level of social support on a platform that promotes superficial relationships. It’s dangerous. This means that regardless of if it is attention seeking, it’s still an issue. The person posting needs a change of perspective. And this was always going to happen. Social media is a platform that rewards attention seeking and fame. If people can’t get it through positive means, they will resort to negative ways of attention seeking. The problem is that social media is now a platform where abuse is seen as acceptable depending on how one posts.

A brand new study by Graham Scott and colleagues found that celebrities were to blame for Twitter abuse depending on how much they portrayed narcissism, machiavelliansim (enjoyment from manipulating others), or psychopathy, which are also known as the ‘Dark Triad” in personality psychology. Therefore, those who demonstrated these three traits were given less sympathy. These people are also the ones who are more likely to sadfish. However, what is worrying about this is that these people are the ones more likely to have a personality disorder and the ones that need excessive approval off others. Thus, the ones that need the attention are the ones that are being accused of sadfishing.

So how do we address someone who is sad fishing? Well Fran Walfish, who is a Californian family and relationship psychotherapist recommends that you respond one on one. Posting publicly on the thread creates the risk of setting up the sad fisher for bullying and public humiliation. I would then advice the sad fisher to educate themselves on how to deal withe whatever they are struggling with. Social media is not the correct arena to cry out for help. You need to re-evaluate if you compare a like to a hug or a comment to a conversation in person. Some might think they’re trying to normalise mental illness by talking publicly about their mental health, but there’s a difference between talking about your mental health, and looking for sympathy. And finally, never ever ignore the person who is sadfishing. It might be a harmless bit of attention seeking but you won’t know until you ask. Cries for help can come in any form and ignoring that will stay with you forever.

So in conclusion, sad fishing being coined has helped us call people out who are trying to jump on the mental illness bandwagon for attention. But this doesn’t mean there might not be something deeper going on there. So while it can be frustrating, don’t ignore it. Reach out to the sad fisher and check if it’s not a cry for help. If it is just attention seeking, don’t publicly shame them. Educate them on why it’s wrong! This is only a new term to be coined so there has been a lack of research in the area but time will educate us further on the matter but for now, let’s move away from the dichotomous thinking that everyone who sad fishes is an attention seeker. I’m sure there’s plenty more fish in the sea!

Yours Sincerely, The Motus Movement.


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