It’s becoming more and more apparent that Social Media is having a negative impact on our mental health. Earlier this week, the UK’s Royal Society for Public Health, published a study called #StatusOfMind that looked at how young people interact with social media apps. They conducted a survey of 1500 people aged 14-24 and asked them to rank popular apps based on issues such as anxiety, depression, bullying, loneliness and body image.
Of the five social platforms studied, Instagram was found to be the most detrimental to a young person’s mental health. Twitter, Facebook and Snapchat were also reported as having a negative affect. Among the five, only YouTube received a net positive rating but overall, it wasn’t ranked that much higher than the others.
My relationship with Instagram
Personally, I can hold up my hands and admit that I, too have been sucked into the filtered, perceived reality of Instagram and have discovered that it’s a place where we can be falsely validated by people “liking” us. Only yesterday, I was about to upload a picture of myself but I hesitated to press the “share” button because I was preoccupied over the stubby appearance of my legs. Soon after I told myself that I shouldn’t be ashamed to put a realistic picture up, so I proudly shared the image of my short, chubby legs to the world and I have no regrets at all (so f*** your beauty standards).
However, like many others I follow hundreds of celebrities and incorrectly named “influencers”. Any time we have free, we spend it scrolling through their images, aspiring to emulate their lifestyles as they are perfectly captured on their profiles. It seems inspirational and sometimes even attainable seeing a beautiful young, size 6 woman dining at the most exclusive restaurant, dressed head-to-toe in runway fashion and a Chanel handbag in tow. She looks so happy in those images and because we live in this ever-so-expanding capitalist world, we’re drawn into the overtly luxurious lifestyles of the rich and famous, telling ourselves, that we will only be happy once we achieve this ridiculously, futile but identical existence. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with going to exclusive events and following the latest fashion trends but these image-based platforms are increasing feelings of inadequacy and anxiety. The pressure of “keeping up” with others is damaging our health. The fact that we’re obsessed with capturing every moment of our lives whilst ensuring they’re all perfectly glamourous is simply not realistic.
The World is not flawlessly filtered
It’s important to note that with the rise of these apps, more of us are socialising behind a screen, which can be very isolating, obscuring mental health challenges even more than usual. However, we do live in an age where social media is unavoidable and highly addictive, and as we navigate these new digital spaces that do have so much to offer, we need to have a conversation about how it can affect our mental health. We must have a mindful approach to using these apps because these platforms present highly curated versions of the people and the world around us and subsequently can allow our perspective of reality to become distorted.
How can we make Instagram a positive platform?
We don’t need to eradicate social media but we need to use these tools responsibly. Following their study, RSPH are calling for action in how we can mitigate the negative aspects of social media use. They recommend:
- Pop-ups warning people that they have used social media for a long time (supported by 70% of young people surveyed).
- Social media platforms identifying users with mental health problems and “discreetly signposting places they can get support”.
- Platforms highlighting when photos have been digitally manipulated – for example, fashion brands, celebrities and other advertising organisations could sign up to a voluntary code, allowing a small icon to be displayed on digitally altered photos.
These suggestions should be the groundwork we need to lay down in order to minimise potential harm and to shape a digital future that is healthy and thriving. I think that other measures could be taken such as educating young people so that they understand the risks of online behaviour and how to respond to harmful content.
I’ve recently tried to transform my social media profiles and am beginning to use them to be open about my mental health, to spread a positive message and to be inclusive (I will still sneak in aesthetically pleasing images of my food and selfies because I’m only human). This more honest approach has only been met with encouragement and I’m amazed by the sense of community of the those who are committed to ensuring that social media is a safe place to express yourself with support and without judgement. Don’t be afraid to present yourself authentically!
Most importantly, remember to unplug and disconnect so that you practice self-care.