News Editor Tom Leaman urges those using student-run confessions page ‘Old Joemance’ as a cry for help to turn instead towards more well-equipped services
Initially formed under the name ‘UoB Crush’ in March, the Facebook page ‘Old Joemance’ has gone on to amass a following of over 4400, and has shared over 3000 posts. However the page has taken a turn in recent months, and has seemingly become a place for sharing mental health struggles, many of which contain potentially triggering content. As students are failed by the university’s mental health services, some are turning to Old Joemance for support, though this should not be within the remit of a light-hearted student-run Facebook page.
The page still maintains the aim of sharing the tales of love-stricken students; the mission stated on their ‘about’ page on Facebook is still ‘helping people find their love at UoB!’. However, around one post per day contains descriptions of serious mental health problems or even contemplation of self-harm and suicide. One post from Tuesday 18th September even labelled itself as being a ‘trigger warning’, and the writer anonymously described their intention to ‘self-harm or just die tonight’.
A concerned moderator shared the Nightline and Samaritan contact details underneath the post, though I’d argue that the writer was probably already aware of these suggestions before they posted to Old Joemance. By putting such cases into the public domain, the writer can lose control over who accesses, shares and perhaps even acts on the post. Besides this, the individual writing this may not be in the best state of mind to make the decision of publicising their struggles, even if they are protected by the page’s anonymous posting method. However, even their shield of anonymity can be compromised. Details of somebody’s struggles could be recognised by a friend or acquaintance, which takes the contents of the post even further from the control of the individual behind it.
To fully understand the current state of the page, I contacted the moderators of ‘Old Joemance’. One moderator described the team as ‘very concerned’ by the amount of ‘alarming’ posts to the page. She continued ‘it is in our belief that these people submitting posts about their struggles with mental illness should not go silenced. We want to help as much as possible and deleting the submissions is the complete opposite of what we would want to do’. She also claimed that ‘there is no other place to vent anonymously at the moment’, despite the page sharing the contact details of professional organisations designed and funded exactly for this purpose.
When asked if posts do get rejected from the page for containing triggering content, one moderator responded: ‘A lot of posts get rejected by us. We have had suicidal posts as well as severely depressing ones which have not been published. Each post gets filtered and all the mods get to vote whether or not it is being published. Some of them do, however, end up on the page because we believe we can help the people in need’ (also saying the page’s motto is ‘spread the love’).
‘To maintain the page’s initial premise of being about crushes, a sister page is being developed ‘to separate the love and crushes from the general discussions and welfare problems’. Shortly after speaking to Redbrick Comment on Wednesday night, the pinned post on ‘Old Joemance’ was updated to publicise this impending change. The new page should allow people to seek advice when they need it most from fellow followers of the page, amid a time where the university’s mental health services are failing students.
However, simply moving the posts from ‘Old Joemance’ to a new page is not countering the primary issues at hand. The moderators posted in August to say that they have ‘no medical training and are unqualified to help people struggling with these issues’. By utilising a social media as an advice platform, attention could be drawn from genuine resources with highly-trained staff to what is, essentially, a student-run page intended for light-hearted posts. Rather than simply moving the problems from one page to another, encouraging people to pursue other avenues of support should instead continue without the need to publicise the posts.
Additionally, the page has 4.4k followers; why not use it to put pressure on the University of Birmingham to invest in their mental health services? A petition shared on the site would surely be of more long-term use than offering the advice of strangers, which is generally to seek professional support elsewhere anyway. The attempts of the page and its followers to provide support to one another is admirable, but the onus should not be on them to do so.
Ultimately, I do have respect for what the Old Joemance team is trying to do; they’ve ended up (unwillingly and over time) becoming a voice for those who have been let down by the university, and they really are trying. It’s both unfair and arguably ill-advised that responsibility has become theirs when the university is investing elsewhere (thousands of miles away in Dubai, of all places) while students at home need it so much more. However, Old Joemance is not the place to make amends for this, though other charities and services truly are. Samaritans, Nightline and qualified medical professionals should be the first port of call, along with close family and friends where possible. Online anonymity is often not quite what it seems, and the consequences of sharing triggering content online could be severe. Let a lighthearted page stick to being lighthearted, and let professionals do their job if you’re ever in need of support.
If you, or anyone you know, are struggling with mental health issues or thoughts of self harming contact the Samaritans on 116 123 or you can contact Nightline from 6pm-8am every night of term, you can find their number on the back of your student ID card. They are also available to contact via their instant messaging or email. Drop-in details are available on the my.bham portal.