Social media bad for mental health? Not in my view!
Digital team's blog
Earlier this week the media reported new stats that showed the number of women seeking help for self-harm has doubled in the last twenty years - sparking a debate on the impact of social media on our mental health. We asked Natalya, one of our young champions, to tell us her view and to share her tips for staying well online.
For most people, self-harm is a secretive activity - often as a result of being unable express your emotions in a healthy way, or to feel in control of something when you feel helpless. Often, family and friends will be unaware that this is happening, and It is easy for those feelings of isolation and loneliness to increase and add to that vicious cycle.
Social media can offer a safe space to talk and express that pent up frustration. While I do not dispute that social media can have an incredibly negative impact on people, and that issues of how society and the media tells girls they should look is still a massive issue, we often neglect to highlight how important social media can be for those who are otherwise isolated or unable to talk to anyone. It can be potentially life-saving.
We know that the ability to be anonymous can be a huge problem with social media, giving people the capability to insult and abuse with complete freedom. But that anonymity can also provide a safe haven for people who would otherwise be too scared to talk about what they’re going through.
When I first started self-harming at sixteen, I had a Tumblr blog and I would use it to vent and journal my feelings. I would also use it to connect and find advice from people who were going through or had gone through the same thing as me. It made me feel less alone. Obviously, there were dangers with that - a platform that allows people to express themselves fully also means that people can express unhealthy ways of thinking and patterns of behavior that could be triggering, and you do have to be wary of that.
“I believe that teenagers are far more switched on to the issues with excessive social media usage than we give them credit for - they have grown up in the age of social media after all.”
We must consider the fact that social media is rarely the cause of mental illness - rather it is the societal pressures of school / money / parents / friendships / job prospects that can negatively affect young people. Yes, these things are also present on social media, but social media is only a reflection of society. We can’t say that social media is the problem, without also acknowledging that society as a whole is a problem. Social media just amplifies that.
As ever, nothing is black and white, and rarely are things ever only good or bad. Talk to your children, your peers or your parents about social media, discuss potential issues but also discuss the things you find helpful about it. Discuss how to keep yourself safe and how to keep yourself healthy. It’s okay if you slip up or struggle, but talking, whether in person or online, will help, I know that from my own experiences.
My tips for using social media in a healthy manner:
- If you feel that it is negatively affecting your life, talk to someone about it - a friend, a therapist, a parent. Turn off when you can and mute your notifications - don’t let social media overwhelm you.
- Enforce your boundaries - mute topics which you find distressing, unfollow people who make you feel bad about yourself, don’t feel like you have to answer messages or play snapchats immediately. Give yourself a break if you need to. If people make you feel bad about that, they are not worth your time.
- You don’t have to read every bit of news. You don’t need to be up to date with exactly what’s going on the world. Try not to endlessly scroll through hundreds and hundreds of updates!
- Finally, remember that social media is a skewed view of life, people like to upload the perfect photos and updates about their lives – censoring out the bad bits. Most people’s lives are not that perfect so don't compare yourself.
Natalya is a Rethink Mental Illness Young Champion, follow her on Twitter via @NatalyaFineron.
If you would like more information about self-harm? Please visit our advice and information pages or download our free factsheet.