Therapy Blog

Witch-Hunting in the Digital Age: When Women Speak Uncomfortable Truths

Posted on Friday, September 22nd, 2023 by Cristina Vrech

The impact of digital persecution on mental health.

In recent decades, women have seen great progress in their ability to speak up, be heard, and empower themselves and each other. Movements like feminism and #MeToo have seen many courageous women support each other to make their voices heard. But throughout history, women across the world have been silenced by social norms and often by the law. And the effects of remaining silent on issues which directly impact, upset or anger you can be detrimental.

How does being silenced affect mental health?

As with many animals, humans communicate to survive. Communication is how we tell each other about our needs, desires and dislikes so we can relate to and become closer to one another. Real improvements have been made in women’s legal and socially accepted right to speak up and be heard and really listened to. But despite this, women still hold fewer leadership positions in the workplace, don’t feel listened to by their medical professionals and make up less than a third of the UK’s parliament members. 

Simultaneously, women are three times more likely than men to experience common mental health issues. Although this statistic has many complex causes, the damaging effect of having to fight to be heard and the potential repercussions are undeniable factors. 

Witch-Hunting: Blonde woman crying with hand over mouth, the word 'silence' is written down the side of her hand.

Female censorship in the digital age

Social media, amongst other things, has enabled women and other marginalised groups to form communities and share messages in huge numbers. But social media has also been used as a disturbingly effective tool to punish women for speaking up.

For example, the recently deceased Sinead O’Connor’s social media posts have been intensely scrutinised. O’Connor was often candid about her own mental health difficulties, openly describing her experiences with her diagnoses of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and bipolar disorder. O’Connor also often used her platform to protest according to her political beliefs.

This included protesting child sex abuse in the Catholic Church and refusing to allow the Star Spangled Banner to be played at her concerts. Her chosen forms of protest led to outrage, violent remarks by famous people, including Frank Sinatra and Joe Pesci, and receiving a lifetime ban from Saturday Night Live. O’Connor faced boycotts, ostracisation and even threats for doing what she believed morally right, stating,

“An artist’s job is sometimes to create difficult conversations that need to be had”.

The harmful impact of this reaction on her mental health seems obvious. But when she displayed signs of struggling, the response was an unsympathetic PR whirlwind.

Following her death, many of her peers have highlighted that O’Connor was open about mental health before it became socially acceptable and even trendy. O’Connor’s candour around her mental illnesses should have been applauded and supported by her industry and her fans, but her posthumous defenders highlight the great steps that have been made over the past few years in enabling women to speak about their mental health.

Online Harassment, Support and Empowerment

Many other women in the public eye who have large followings on social media, such as footballer Megan Rapinoe and actress Milly Bobby Brown, have often been subject to intense online critique.

Megan Rapinoe, who played for the United States team in this year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup, spoke out in 2019 about then-president Donald Trump’s divisive policies, stating that she would not attend if invited to the White House and telling CNN,

“Maybe America is great for a few people right now, but it’s not great for enough Americans in this world”.

In response, many public figures and celebrities, including Trump himself, took to social media and the press to criticise Rapinoe for her comments, labelling her and the entire team unpatriotic and un-American. 

Despite not publicly speaking about her experiences’ impact on her mental health, Rapinoe is a vocal advocate for mental health support. She has described herself as

“inspired by the mission to make mental wellness an essential part of daily life”.

Actress Milly Bobby Brown, having reached a high level of fame at 11 years old by starring in the hit Netflix show Stranger Things, has often been a trending topic of conversation. Notably, in 2018, memes began circulating that implicated her in a number of homophobic comments, seemingly for no reason. The memes went viral and led to widespread harassment online.

As a result, Brown deactivated her Twitter account and was essentially forced out of a conversation of which she was the centre. The instinct to defend oneself against rumours and untruths is innate, and the effects of being unable to do so can cause serious emotional distress.

Brown has been open about going to therapy as a result of online harassment and has described her journey of self-discovery as ‘empowering’. Rather than completely disengaging from social media, Brown’s team censors what she sees online.

This decision was made to protect her mental health as a 19-year-old woman who openly stated that she was still figuring out her identity. Nevertheless, she has been unable to engage in discussions which are about her. Being selective about your conversations is vital to protecting your mental health. However, the necessity of doing so in the first place is a sad reality, especially affecting women and marginalised groups.

These women and countless others have been essential to sustaining a growing community of empowered, vocal women.

Short-haired Black woman shouting passionately into a megaphone with her arm raised.

Therapy and Truth-Telling

Speaking up, for many, can feel daunting. But remaining silent and ‘bottling things up’, regardless of gender, is unhealthy. The effects of repressing emotions can be physically and mentally damaging; unprocessed emotions can show up as a range of symptoms, including mental health issues, high blood pressure and heart disease. Emotional repression has also been linked to alcohol and substance misuse. 

Although the instinct to dismiss one’s opinions, interests, and dislikes can also stem from childhood, it is possible for all of us to become more confident in sharing how we feel. And, as we’ve seen, people who speak out empower others to do the same.

For many, taking actions like going to therapy can help to make that first step. Therapy allows people to connect with their minds in ways they may have neglected. It encourages people to address, explore and reclaim their right to be angry or frustrated in ways which enable healthy processing.

By entering a safe, confidential space, such as a therapeutic relationship, individuals can gain a deeper understanding of their own thought processes and how to frame these in a way which is beneficial and productive for themselves and their communication style, leading to more profound and honest relationships with themselves and those around them.

Book Now

Get Started Today
with Leone Centre

Book Now


Call Us

Call us
020 3930 1007

View therapists

View our therapists
Find your match