Social Media and Mental Health

It is a rare person indeed that has no form of social media under the age of 40. One of the biggest questions surrounding it is “How does it affect our mental health?”

The majority of us will have experienced both positive and negative impacts on social networks; hopefully, more of the former.

Have you been guilty of taking numerous selfies to get the ‘perfect’ pose ready to post to social media? How many times have you not posted a picture due to worrying about what others may think about body image? Have you embellished a status to make yourself look more appealing or funnier or smarter?

Sadly, this happens all too often. The pressure to be slimmer, prettier, smarter or funnier is building rapidly. Many people now judge others from one picture or one sentence and decide they know who that person is, based on just that one piece of information.

For some, it may end their lives. Tragically, celebrity Caroline Flack felt that was her only option. The media seem to take great pleasure in building celebrity status up and take more pleasure watching that same someone fall, except these days every one of us can sit, watch and even partake in it.

Stephen Fry has likened social media comments to ‘lemon on a paper cut’. With 12.7 million followers, he admits he is particularly sensitive to online ‘trolling’ and has decided he will no longer read comments made about him.

An impressionable youngster could very quickly get caught up in this world, that, for all intents and purposes, appears real. With the rise of cyberbullying, cyberstalking, fake news and deepfakes, we can no longer rely on what we see as being correct.

Such an example is an Instagram influencer, Natalie Taylor, who faked a Bali holiday by having a photoshoot at an Ikea store, done in such a way that her followers believed she was holidaying there. She said, “Don’t trust everything you see on the internet. Sometimes, people wanna lie about who they are as a person, and it’s not hard to do apparently.”

Comparing our seemingly ‘boringly-normal ‘lives to someone else’s jet-set lifestyle can have a huge detrimental effect on our mental health. Seeing posts about the latest weight loss phenomenon, workouts, helping sick animals, child abuse, ‘1 share=$1 dollar’ type likes, and even the chain letter type messages, they all make us think; "Am I fit enough? Should I be slimmer? I have to have that concealer, but I don’t have the money? I’d like to donate to that charity, but money is tight." It can make you feel inferior, guilty and even want to become someone that you’re not. No one person should ever be made to feel less than unique, yet thousands of people think that way.

Jealousy often leads to bullying in the young people (and not always limited to that generation!). For example, checking out your ex with their new partner, seeing a friend tagged in a post somewhere that you’d not been invited to, let alone the people we idolise and wish we could be more akin to, all can produce feelings of inferiority or FOMO (fear of missing out).

If you are vulnerable or have existing mental health issues, this very quickly can lead to feelings of isolation, depression and insecurity. Sleep will suffer too. Scrolling, spending time on social media platforms, until the early hours of the morning combined with having negative thoughts will harm sleeping patterns.

But social media isn’t all bad- it has many positives too. By connecting with friends and family that live far away, it provides a fantastic opportunity to keep in touch, read what they are up to and see the latest pictures.

Social media can provide a degree of anonymity to allow you to be more open with issues that you feel are too personal to chat about with your friends. There are terrific community groups that you can join with a wealth of information should you need it. From having a chronic illness to needing advice about a rare car, other users can provide vital information that you otherwise wouldn’t find.

Some also find that it can build their confidence rather than tear it down. Makeup tips, money managing, ideas on a budget, the latest bar to visit- you name it, you will find it! Those cute kitten videos some find a little naff could go a long way in lifting someone else’s mood. Inspirational quotes may not appeal to everyone, but one may just be the thing that one person needs to hear at that exact time.

So, what do we do?

  • Limit your time spent scrolling these sites. See how often and when you’re online with your Notty account.
  • Question everything you read.
  • Check-in on that friend you’ve not seen or heard from in a while- a quick hello might be all they needed to hear!
  • Don’t judge someone by a single status- remember to treat people how you would like to be treated.
  • Never assume.
  • Instead of spending the evening messaging a friend, meet up with them, go for a coffee, a walk, a glass of wine.
  • Spend time with real people and real life.

Above all, enjoy the real life that is in front of you, not just from the screen in front of you.