Social media and mental health

Recently, I’ve made some changes to the way I do things on social media. I’m resigned to the fact that I’ll never be an influencer (and neither will my dog) and made my profiles private. I never really gave much thought to having public profiles as I’ve never shared anything I would consider particularly “risky”.

Social media have become a pivotal way in which we communicate with family and friends. It’s a great way to stay in touch with people across the world and it connects us in a way that has never been possible before. Minority groups can find support and a sense of belonging within their social media pages. From a mental health perspective, the benefit may just be the fact of connecting with others who struggle and knowing you’re not alone. 

We do, however, need to ensure our own use of social media isn’t having a negative effect on our mental health. I have made a conscious decision to never read the comments on anything; it seems that no matter what is shared by someone, people find a way to be nasty about it. My first personal and very eye opening experience of this was a few years ago. A close family member had landed a leading role in a high profile New Zealand drama. I felt incredibly proud and kept an eye on the social media commentary. When the first full trailer was released online, I watched it and then – in hindsight, rather stupidly – read some of the comments. I was truly shocked and in disbelief by how awful some people could be in their comments, making completely irrelevant personal attacks in response to something that people had put effort and hard work into creating. This is the downside: every time something is shared on social media, it instantly becomes available for public scrutiny. It’s impossible to completely avoid negativity of internet trolls.

Then, there’s the danger of unfavourable self-scrutiny: comparing yourself and your life to the seemingly perfect world of the influencers you follow. This has been proven to be a contributing factor to the high rates of depression and anxiety among the social media generation. Comparing your life, even sub-consciously, to the ones  that look idyllic on Facebook and Instagram can contribute to decreased self-worth, as well as the feeling that your life will never amount to anything as good as that. (Which is absolutely not true!)

I’m not writing this to discourage anyone from social media. Used in the right way, it can keep you well connected with the important people in your life. It means that we can, generally, contact people anywhere in the world in an instant – an important thing for people who may need to reach out in times of need. It can also help generate momentum and drive change for important issues, such as ending the stigma surrounding mental health. 

However, I personally think that we need to take care of ourselves when it comes to the social media world. Check in with yourself regularly and if there is something that is impacting you in a negative way, consider changing how you do things. Your self-worth and mental health are far more important than gaining those likes!

- Kath D