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Social media, self-love and mental illness

Co- written by Tyler Majer

The Negative:

Social media is an interactive medium that has grown at a speed quicker than anything that human beings have encountered in the past 50 to 100 years. Since the Industrial Revolution, communication has expanded to an unimaginable point. It seems like each year the scope of communication grows larger and the amount of people and places with whom and which we can interact, communicate and engage only expands.

With this immense expansion of communication, people are able to talk to people long and far, whether for good or bad. The problem that I will be discussing is the bad side of social media and what happens when these applications or “apps” intersect with people’s self-esteem, insecurities and mental illness.

Although social media and subsequent social media “apps” have an abundance of goodness to them, they also have an unfortunate dark side. Many people look to social media for a sense of validation or a simple confidence boost. Apps where you get “likes” of some sort are the main culprit. Be it Twitter with their “retweet” system, Facebook or Instagram likes or even to some degree Tinder with its “matches,” each one of these social media apps contain a degree of desire or need for another to notice, accept or even enjoy what you are posting.

The problem comes when those who need another’s dialogue the most hide themselves behind the falsity of a profile. Those with low-self esteem, the self-conscious or the mentally ill, may look to their social media profiles for a confidence boost. Most social media users, after all, try to put their best version of themselves into this online form. However, what happens when someone does not find the validation they need? Or does not get the amount of likes they want? What happens when this best possible version of them is also disregarded? The people most needing of a helping hand may be pushed deeper into a state of sadness or disappointment. Now, this may seem irrational because we are talking about something as meaningless as Facebook after all.

However, I propose that most young people can probably easily think of a time where they have posted something on Facebook, Instagram, whatever, and not gotten the response they wanted. This is not a heartbreaking result to most people, but to those who suffer with a predilection towards negativity, this is a serious issue.

This predilection towards negativity and the inherent “like” function of social media manifests itself in probably the most evident, negative way in a social media website called Yik Yak. Yik Yak is a website where people post anonymous messages, almost like tweets, to anyone and everyone wanting to listen.

Unfortunately with anonymity comes the discourse of negativity. Being anonymous, people post things that they wouldn’t want attached to their name. I have seen many depressed, confused and almost suicidal sounding posts. I urge these people to reach out and get help instead of spewing their problems into anonymity.

The Positive:

I asked a friend what they thought of social media in reference to mental health. They said, “If you are on the verge of suicidal actions, you can reach out to somebody.” Fair enough, I thought.

For a long time, I considered social media as being generally bad, with a few redeeming features. It isolates people, reduces language to four-letter, one-syllable words that must end in “z”, and leaves individuals living in near-fictitious bubbles. Reams of information can make you believe everything and nothing, or just be very prejudiced. In turn, these have their own effects on mental health, leading to feelings of inadequacy in comparison to others’ achievements, a fear of being alone and anxiety of talking to people in person.

This is only half the picture though. Social media can have benefits, too.

Australian non-profits Infoxchange and ReachOut both describe many of the benefits that social media can have on your mental health.

ReachOut describes how social media use can help a person form their identity. Through online communities, engaging in online conversations and easily keeping up-to-date in various interest groups – be it political, social or sporting – you can develop a more stable sense of yourself. For example, the beliefs you stand for, the causes you support or just what you think is cool are often formed in your online interactions.

Generally, strengthening your identity in this way can help you feel more secure about yourself.

Infoxchange shares this view, stating, “Social media has mental health benefits in terms of feelings of inclusion and social connectedness.” For people who feel barred from social interaction and excluded socially, “Communicating with people over social media can increase feelings of connectedness with positive outcomes for self-esteem, attitude and decreased feelings of loneliness.”

In the past, if you were socially excluded it was harder for you to reach out and connect. Social media just makes it easier for you to connect with others.

On top of this, social media helps reduce the stigma surrounding many mental health issues. Memes can seem infantile in some scenarios, but a meme expressing your solidarity with those struggling with their mental health or invoking your own struggles can help reduce feelings of exclusion. At times, mental health has been a rather taboo topic, but a simply re-sharing of stuff on Facebook and Twitter can help break down socials barriers.

Beating the stigma doesn’t stop there. Infoxchange details how “people are becoming more and more knowledgeable on issues of mental health, what it means and where to seek help. The stigma around mental illness is slowly being cracked through social marketing campaigns and the sharing of information via online channels.”

In all sorts of ways, social media can have tangible benefits when it comes to mental health. It is too simplistic to write it off, just be aware of where it falls down.

My friend did actually reach out when they were on the verge of suicidal actions. As he says, on top of all this, social media ultimately allows you to stay in contact with the ones you love as much as possible, and this can be key.

Just to conclude, I would like to say that everyone should love themselves, or at least attempt to, and keeping in the vein of Self-Love week, I would like to thank and say I love anyone and everyone reading this. Whether you’re in a good place or a bad place, you matter.

Unfortunately, sometimes some of us, including myself, need a little help. Below are a few places you contact to get that help.

Trent Wellness Centre: 705-748-1386
Trent Active Minds:
Kawartha Sexual Assault Centre:
Telecare Distress Centre of Peterborough: 705-745-2243

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