Supporting mental health in a world of social media

Following the tragic news this weekend that Caroline Flack has died by suicide, the spotlight is being shone on social media and the impact it can have on mental health.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed on social media, you’re not alone, and there are things you can do to clear your head and take a much-needed digital cleanse.

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Anything … we can literally choose to be anything ….

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The tragic death of Caroline Flack has drawn attention to the relentless nature of social media and the ways it can affect mental health. From constant updates about breaking news stories and photoshopped images that can lead to poor self-esteem, too – in the worst case scenarios – endless streams of abuse or comments from strangers, social media can be overwhelming.

So, it’s vital to know when to take a step back from the digital sphere and detox from the never ending cycle of social media.

INSTAGRAM

Instagram is one of the worst offenders when it comes to impacting our self-esteem. Whether you’re keeping up with the edited images of the Kardashians selling their appetite-suppressing lollipops and detox teas, or seeing old friends from school sharing a highlight reel of their lives in pictures, it can be overwhelming and very often makes us feel like we’re not doing enough with our own lives.

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Thank you @lauriepink for this. I have had to fight like a fucking dog this week against false accusations, people framing my words, and deliberately taking them out of context, trying to discredit my entire integrity, and going after disabled members of my family. And for what? To stop me from being an activist against eating disorders? To stop me from de stigmatizing conversations about mental health, suicides, sexual consent, abortions, women’s rights, trans rights? I’ve been in this business 11 years and am a smart woman. I wouldn’t lie in print or on camera knowing how permanent the internet is. Especially knowing how much our media loves to portray women as liars and hysterics. I always own up to any mistake I make. I never hide from it. I publicly learn from my mistakes with other people joining me, so we can grow as a community. I’ll be damned if some lies and conspiracy theories are going to get in my way. I have work to do. There are rights being taken away from marginalized people every fucking day under the current governments in this world, and the people who try to discredit those doing the work to fight for equality, rather than those trying to marginalize people further, are on the wrong side. At least we’ve started a huge mainstream conversation about invisible illness/chronic illness and the mockery and disbelief that comes with what is already a near impossible existence. So something good always comes of a shit storm. Big love for the messages of support and similar stories of gaslighting you’ve all faced. I’m so sorry. That’s so painful. But we are in this shit together, and nobody can stop us as one, we just have to not let them form cracks in our wall. Have a great fucking Sunday.

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The truth is that social media, and Instagram in particular, is a highlights reel of what people want you to see. From brunches with mates, to glitzy anniversary throwbacks full of wedding dresses and rings, when scrolling through Instagram, it’s easy to feel like you’re not doing enough with your own life.

But remember, no one is posting images from times when they feel sad or lonely or during a mental health crisis. We all feel like this at times, it just isn’t making it onto social media.

You might feel like you’re the only one going through a hard time, and on Instagram, it’s easy to feel that way. Just remember that social media is not an accurate representation of someone’s life, only the best bits.

TWITTER

A platform that can be equally as damaging, Twitter allows us to share our innermost thoughts and opinions to anyone who cares enough to read. It also allows people to let us know what they think about our opinions – usually that they think you’re wrong – whether we want to know or not.

Twitter can be an extremely toxic environment, and like Instagram, is rife with trolls trying to discredit, harass and generally try to make other people feel bad about themselves.

While everyone is entitled to an opinion, and freedom of speech is an important pillar of our society, we need to ask ourselves, do we really need to broadcast our opinions on social media as frequently as we do?

Social media provides distance, and therefore a safety net. We never have to deal with the consequences of our words, because we never see the consequences as we would if we said them face to face.

TARGET

Being the target of online abuse is exhausting and can have real-life consequences. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by social media, there are ways to get yourself feeling back to normal.

  1. Take a break. The simplest thing you can do to protect your mental health is leave social media altogether. It doesn’t have to be forever, but taking a break provides distance and can take your mind off it, rather than looking at it all day everyday. Make sure to distract yourself with other hobbies, catching up with a TV show, reading a book or meeting up with family and friends.
  2. Blocking and unfollowing people who make you feel bad online isn’t a sign of weakness. It allows you to cultivate the sort of online space that you want to exist in. Don’t feel bad about blocking someone if they’re harassing you. If your sister’s success online means you have to mute her or unfollow, don’t feel bad. Being constantly bombarded with other people’s achievements isn’t normal or good for self-esteem. And, if it comes up in person that you’ve stopped liking their posts, just be honest. People are sure to understand.

3. Set yourself boundaries for online. Allow yourself to check social media on your commute home or for a set amount of time in the evening. Otherwise, keep your phone at arms length, so you’re not tempted to constantly check for updates.

4. Speak out. If social media is having a real effect on your mental health, reach out for support. Chances are, friends, family, colleagues will also be feeling the pressures of social media and will be able to relate to how you’re feeling. Your GP as well as mental health charities such as Samaritans, Mind and SAMH can also provide advice and support.

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