To begin with, let’s focus on the two important questions here:
What is mental health?
What is social media?
Firstly, everyone has mental health. It is simply a person’s condition with regards to their psychological and emotional well-being. This means that you could have a positive mental health and be happy, content and emotionally stable. However, this can also be turned around to portray the negative feelings that people have like feeling depressed, anxious or even suicidal.
Your mental health will change through stages of your life and can even change and develop in a short space of time like a week. An unhealthy mentality can be the cause of more serious problems and there are many things that you can try out to improve your own mental health – but I’ll get to that in a bit.
Social media is websites and apps that enable people to connect and be involved in social networking. For example; Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, Instagram…
Now that you understand what I mean when I say ‘mental health’ and ‘social media’, we can address the impact they both often have on our lives. There are positive and negative effects to most things in life and social media is certainly a topic of discussion when it comes to deciding if it really does benefit our lives. It’s up to you as an individual to decide how you view social media and how it is involved in your own life.
One way in which social media is positive is that it gives people a platform in which they can express their views and feelings. As people we like to share our experiences with others and social media is a perfect way to do so – we can all admit that we post a quick picture on Facebook of our holiday in Spain! It can also protect people from the anxious and embarrassed feelings they often face in real life when confronted with their own views.
If social media can aid people to get over issues like anxiety then surely we should be promoting it? Also, sometimes people feel as though they know people better after being able to view their online profile and speaking to them without boundaries online which helps people to connect and engage with their peers.
However, online safety is super-important and before you begin to trust someone online you must have proof of who they really are and check that their intentions are the same as yours. Also, check that your own online profile doesn’t give out any information that you wouldn’t want anyone to know, like your address or personal details like passwords or bank details.
Social media can have damaging effects on your mental health because we automatically compare ourselves to what we see online – and if we think that someone else is doing better than us, we instantly feel like what we’re doing isn’t enough. It is important to remember that the lives that many people put out on social media won’t show everything that they’re living with. Why would we post the times that we’re feeling down or lonely? People post the times when their doing fun things: my Instagram is full of pictures of me and different groups of friends going to things like festivals and going on day trips to the zoo and things like that, but that doesn’t mean that’s all I do.
I don’t publicise the days when I’m crawled up in a ball on my bed because I don’t feel like I can talk to anyone, or the days when I help my dad who’s battling depression himself. These things often result in my own struggles but I wouldn’t put these on my Instagram because I want my followers to enjoy the fun days out I had as much as I did.
It is important to know how to stop the harmful effects social media could have on your mental health so here are some things that I tried to feel a little better:
- Identified when I was struggling – I was feeling tired all the time; I was anxious when opening apps and I couldn’t get the jealous feelings of other people out of my head. Do you feel the same?
- Disconnected- although our lives are becoming increasingly reliant on social media and constantly being in touch with people, it is important to engage in real life and spend time with the people that are actually around you. I recorded how many hours I spent online in a day and set a realistic goal to cut down and spent some time reflecting on my day each evening.
- Downloaded ‘Headspace’ – an app that focuses on mindfulness and it only takes about 5-10 minutes out of your day to meditate and relax.
- Unfollowed negativity – there were pages coming up on my feed that expressed negative views that I simply unfollowed or even blocked. I took control over what I was seeing and indulged in the lighter side of the internet by watching my personal favourite videos of cats that are scared of cucumbers.
- I made sure I had a balanced social life online and offline – I arranged to actually meet up with my friends rather than just messaging them all the time and when I was with them I made a conscious effort not to go on my phone and message other people, I learnt to appreciate the time we spent together.
- Enjoy it! Don’t take things too seriously online and remember that it’s meant to be light-hearted.
Our mental health should be treated in the same way that our physical health is and should be addressed with the same manner and sense of urgency. Stay safe online and don’t forget that there are things you can do to help yourself.
Here are some useful links that I used when I was struggling, as well as OTR:
- Childline: https://www.childline.org.uk/
- Kooth: https://kooth.com/
- Wellcast: https://www.youtube.com/user/watchwellcast
- Samaritans: http://www.samaritans.org/
- The Mix: http://www.themix.org.uk/