Is Social Media Really ‘Ruining’ Our Mental Health?

It is clear that social media can seriously impact one’s mental health. Instagram is a systematic search for validation through one double-tap and a society of statistics based on images with tags and captions. For many, it is a safe place or a way to express oneself, however for most it is a psychological rollercoaster.

It’s a fact that millennials are obsessive with how they present themselves in different realities. The one in which they are constantly observing online and the one that they are actually living. When these two realities seem unable to coexist, there’s an anxiety — that we will not be ‘liked’ enough or produce content that truly represents who we are or who we want to be on Instagram.

Who we are on Instagram — where we constantly scroll and “like” in our own curated feed, read the news we want to read, connect with others and build a personal brand — is who we are to that world.

In the fashion world, appearance is — and has always been — very important. Each post aspires to achieve the perfect aesthetic thereby perfecting your own personal brand. Since there has never been a time where personal brands have been more relevant to fashion consumerism and fashion branding, the question of whether or not all this Instagram is good for your psyche is being debated throughout the industry.

Freelance writer Eve Livingston wrote a story for Dazed Digital in May (during mental health awareness week), on Instagram and your mental health: the big picture. When asked what the ‘bigger picture’ is between the two, Eve says, “it sounds a bit of a cop-out but I really think the answer is that it’s very harmful for some, very helpful for others, and just somewhere in between for most people. My own personal view is that it’s just a platform to play things out on — so I don’t think it can always be put as the root cause of anxiety or depression but I can certainly see how someone who was struggling in other aspects of their life or with self-esteem in general could find that it exacerbates that. I think an important point is that the most widespread effect is on wellbeing rather than mental illness – so people are just feeling a bit fed up or dispirited because of it, rather than developing actual mental illnesses.”

Aurora Paillard, Course Leader for BSc Psychology of Fashion at the London College of Fashion, states that, “so far, the negative consequences of social media include low self-esteem, depression and addiction.” Statistically, since social media has become more dominant in our daily lives – the rates of depression, anxiety and addiction have surged. The NHS published a report by the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) and the Young Health Movement in 2017 that claims Instagram is the number one app that takes a toll on youth mental health. The RSPH report claims that it surveyed 1,479 young people aged 14-24 and found that 91% of 16-24-year-olds used social media. When surveyed, the report says that the depression, anxiety and addiction is linked to a constant fear of not living up to what is posted on social media. This higher standard of quality of life that is relentlessly being captured on social media is unrealistic and portrays a “life” that is better than it actually is.

“[…] the amount of youths who rely on social media for a dopamine hit. This is the same chemical produced via alcohol, drugs and gambling. We have age limits on these things […] but not on social media. It’s important that we educate younger generations, so that they can stay safe online.”

Claire Eastham, author of the book We’re all Mad Here and frequent contributor to the Independent discussing the topic of mental health, says, “What impact does this have on our psyche? The idea that you should document your life for others to evaluate. I could be perfectly happy when I click on Instagram, but then I see a photo of another MH campaigner at some amazing event and it makes me feel inadequate. I think the main issue with the social media is the lack of context… photographs can lie.” Eastham explored the connection between the rise in mental health issues and social media in the Independent in 2015, then went on to write a book the following year questioning whether each and every one of us is simply ‘mad’ and how to cope with it on a daily basis. While researching the element that social media plays in the current state of mental health problems amongst youths, Eastham states that, “the most interesting thing I learned from my own research is the addictive element. In particular, the amount of youths who rely on social media for a dopamine hit. This is the same chemical produced via alcohol, drugs and gambling. We have age limits on these things… but not on social media. It’s important that we educate younger generations, so that they can stay safe online.”

A case study found on Sciencedirect.com database by Phil Longstreet, a scientist from the University of Michigan, in 2018 found that ‘internet addiction’ may affect over 210 million people. The study claims that the more that dependency on the Internet grows, the more that addiction and standards of the addiction grow. The validation and temporary high that social media gratification produces causes an easily attainable quick sense of happiness. Similar to drugs or alcohol, once that temporary high or sense of happiness fades away – there is a comedown effect which fuels depression and anxiety.

As an influencer, this world of Instagram is your personal digital reality as well as your public portfolio. For influencers, it isn’t always easy to be transparent with issues such as mental health because of how these issues can come across online. Posts about mental health are sometimes perceived as ‘attention seeking’ or ‘not relatable.’ Trishna Goklani is a micro-influencer from Singapore who moved to London to expand her personal brand and study fashion journalism at the London College of Fashion. “I was once talking to someone about mental health issues and speaking out on these issues on Instagram and I have said I don’t sugar code things when I’m sad. If I’m sad I will say that I’ve had a horrible day on my Instagram. Then one day I told someone that I was really sad and that life wasn’t that good or going the way that I wanted it to and they said to me, “but you look fine? Your life is so perfect, you get to travel everywhere, you get all these free clothes,” and I was taken aback; it’s like they perceived me as some fantasy – when actually, I am a real person. I have real feelings, I get sad – contrary to popular belief, half of the people you follow on Instagram have anxiety and/or depression.”

Other micro-influencers like Florrie Alexander, who works at Harper’s Bazaar U.K. and has been trying to build a platform to help people network in the industry says that, “social media is so malleable and you can create this whole entire world – you can just create this world that in reality you’re just not living. I know that when I was suffering from depression, my Instagram looked like I was having the best time! I looked like I was enjoying my life and traveling and doing all these things, but I was actually so ill. So that’s where it’s so tricky and it is a tool that you can use to just create a different world.”

The frightening thing about social media is that we are unsure of the long-term effect that it will have on our psyches. It can help us express our darkest thoughts and find others who are suffering with similar issues, however it can also sometimes allow us to present a mask to the digital world, one that is very hard to take off so we may face the reality of what is underneath.

For more information on how to deal with ny mental health issues, click here.

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