A lot of people in this world are off, in some way. On the internet, we see them pass by in comment sections and social media posts. But who are they, and what becomes of them?
I once heard a story from a relatively popular content creator on the internet. He said that one day he got a peculiar email from someone on the other side of the country. It said that the man knew the creator was speaking to him, and that they’d finally be together soon. The creator shrugged it off as some weird message, and went back to work.
The next day, he got a call. It was the man’s sister. As it turns out, the man was serious — he had sold all his possessions, and bought a one way ticket to travel to an old address listed as belonging to the creator. He had already left the airplane and started looking for the house before the family even knew he was gone.
These are the crazies, the injection of schizophrenia, mania, and other mental illness into the internet. While we like to pretend that abstractions such as these simply don’t exist when we browse the web, the truth is that it does. And it’s getting worse.
For most people, anonymization on the web provides us some nice protections against the crazies. Unlike the content creator, we’re all very unlikely to have one of them on our tails. And so, it provides us the opportunity to sit in the background and observe. Many people do just that — entire forums are dedicated to “lolcows”, specific crazies on the internet that provide a casual observer some laughs with their seemingly ridiculous actions. Many people poke and prod them, trying to get them to perform certain actions, only to retreat back into the shadows.
The translation of these acts to the real world is frightening. On the side of the observers, increased callousness and apathy towards those suffering from mental issues in real life. But on the side of the crazies, something even worse — an often accelerating mental deterioration, brought on by the fact that people not just disbelieve them, but actively laugh at the reality they presume to exist. For those with no support system, they are likely as good as dead.
The story of the crazies is one that is grim, certainly. But it is not an unsolvable problem. For example, the world has also seen a massive shift towards the importance of mental health. While this shift tends to be for more minor issues such as seasonal depression and anxiety, it’s still a good step forward.
The first step to help is to give a voice to those who can’t give a voice to themselves. The crazies are perhaps the ultimate definition of that. Once the world recognizes that these issues are much more serious than we currently make them out to be, we can start working towards the cure. Just keep the crazies in mind the next time you read something, would you?