With the presence of cyber-bullying and the comments section of just about any website, it’s easy to forget that some good can come from the internet. But when people band together on social media positive things can happen and lives can even be saved.
Noah Brocklebank, a Maryland middle-schooler, was bullied relentlessly at school, taunted with terms like “annoying,” “ugly,” “fat,” and a “loser.” Noah sunk into a depression and anxiety so unbearable that he concluded the only way out was suicide, which he planned for February 8th, 2013, his 13th birthday. Noah posted a picture of the self-inflicted cuts on his arm to Instagram, which got the attention of his mother, and he was sent to the hospital for 8 days of treatment.
While at the hospital Noah’s mom, Karen, decided to harness the good of social media and the internet. She set up the website Letters for Noah and a Facebook page for the cause. Her expectation was to get a few letters sent to a PO Box she set up, to cheer Noah up and let him know he is loved and that he matters.
In a matter of weeks, Noah got thousands of letters from strangers and loved ones alike. One letter from Noah’s former elementary school teacher read, “I remember you fondly — humorous, smart, creative, fun to be around. … Life gets real good! But you have to get past the hard parts to reach the best parts.” Noah also received gifts such as manuscripts for children’s books, flying lessons, and a Pittsburgh Steeler’s hat, Noah’s favorite team.
Karen Brocklebank’s decision to make her son’s situation so public is considered controversial, as Noah will now always be associated with the illness and such attention may be damaging, but she did it from a place of love and desperation. Her intention was to use social media to save Noah, as opposed to letting her son fall victim to it. Noah’s cyber-bullying began on XBox Live, and he used Instagram for his morbid message. Karen taught her son that the internet can also be a caring community, rewriting Noah’s history with social media.
By making Noah’s struggles with depression and anxiety so public, she is also sending the message that mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of. Too many still are afraid to get help when they really need it because of the stigma surrounding mental health issues.
Controversy aside, the thoughtful gestures of strangers from the internet have changed the way both Noah Brocklebank and his mother see the world for the better.