Mental Health & Social Media, is this a pairing that is finally working for the greater good? The stigma that surrounds mental health is finally being denounced with the influence of social platforms around the world. Countless conversations are being had on Twitter with #MentalHealth being used daily. More than ever, people have the means to communicate their sufferings and anxieties and are able to see that they are not alone. With one in four people in the UK suffering with mental health issues and 350 million world wide; Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat all have their face represented in the foreground of mental health. There are lots of positive stories, and for many the faceless and mainly anonymous platforms offer a place for someone to be heard for possibly the first time and to also feel the support of others. They have the opportunity to relate to and engage with people who are experiencing the same without fear of judgement or rejection. Perhaps the likes and comments are good enough for some, and the remote connections supportive, but for some social media may leave them feeling vulnerable, as well meaning people offer advice telling them all will be fine.
More recently the executives of many of these social media platforms have admitted that the platforms may pose a risk to users well being. Chamath Palihapitiya, a former executive of Facebook, said that the social network was “ripping society apart” (The Guardian, December 2017). David Ginsberg, the company’s director of research said that there is a continual debate within the company as to whether time spent on social media is good for people’s well being. But does it help or hinder the individual who suffers daily and when does social media start to have a negative impact on someone with mental health issues?
The negative effects of social media can potentially exacerbate a mentally unwell person. It can be a solitary existence, leading to an isolating soulless experience. Unfortunately it has been purported, that those suffering with mental health issues are more likely to be on multiple social media platforms. The Royal Society is asking for social media companies to identify and offer help to those who could be suffering from mental health issues, this was rolled out last year on Instagram allowing users to anonymously signal worrying posts.
So does reaching out to the anonymous and faceless world help? This is subjective. Choosing to talk is the issue and not just on Twitter or Facebook but in real life. Many will find help in conversation with like minded people on these platforms, following #MentalHealth but hopefully and more importantly starting conversations in this ever evolving online world will lead to conversations with friends. This engagement with others will help people to open up and recognise how they are feeling. With a new awareness perhaps the next step may be to speak to a counsellor and to get help. Like most things in life, if used in moderation, social media can be a positive experience, but going on social media when you need an emotional lift, is likely to be a bad idea. While the risks of these platforms are generally accepted, so is their capacity to help people, especially those struggling with mental health issues.