Social Media and its impact on Young Minds.

By Florence Nelson, Streatham and Clapham High.
Work experience Oct 2023

Human beings are social creatures. We rely on the companionship of people to thrive, and the power and strength of our connections has a major impact on our mental health as a whole. Having someone to speak and relate to can help to ease stress, anxiety and even depression, while increasing our confidence and self-worth. On the one hand, it can be said that social media influencers do have an important role in aiding these social connections around mental health, but does this actually help us understand ourselves or does it simply operate as a defence?

Nowadays, many of us rely on various social media platforms, such as Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat and Tiktok. This reliance has developed over time, and has gradually increased. In today’s society, mental health, and having a mental disorder has become more normalised. There are more influencers that use their platform as a way of spreading awareness, but also as a ‘safe space’, to make people feel more comfortable and less alone. An example platform is Tiktok. This app allows people to post up to 3 minute videos of them either speaking or lip syncing to audios. In terms of content related to mental health, people may post things such as: how they cope when their depression or anxiety is particularly bad on a certain day, their daily routine or what they eat in a day etc. Accounts like these attract a certain ‘type’ of audience, and are inevitably addictive. The audience may range in age and gender, however a common variable that they all share is their experience. Although everyone is different, and going through different things, people who are struggling in general, feel as though they have no one to speak to. Thus, they turn to accounts like these, where the content relates to similar things that they are going through. For example, someone with an eating disorder, may watch what others eat in a day, or what they do when their body dysmorphia is bad, and frequently use this as a coping mechanism. Another example may be someone who has severe anxiety, may watch videos of someone talking about what they do to help manage themselves. There are numerous accounts that revolve around mental health, because in today’s society its spoken about more. Content creators in this field receive thousands of views, likes and comments. If you do have this role, receiving this amount of attention can feel rewarding, as you truly believe that your videos and words are influencing those struggling in a positive way. Therefore, the likelihood of them posting more of these videos is positively reinforced, as they are receiving a credit from a large audience. From this, we would surely think that the media and its influencers have a constructive platform in which they benefit those affected by mental health. However, this is not always the case.

While social media platforms do have their benefits, as I mention above, it is important to remember that social media can be more damaging than we think. To begin with, social media can never be a replacement for real-world human connection. It requires in-person contact with others to trigger the hormones that alleviate stress and make you feel happier and healthier. Thus, despite however connected you feel to someone online, it is nowhere near as beneficial as the connections made in person. A large majority of people online may seem like they know what is best for you, but in retrospect, they are mostly just young people, in hope for fame and views. This seems to not be focused enough on. People tend to forget the initial motive as they seek for this relatable content. In the long-run, this can be exceedingly damaging for the youth in today’s society, but also for upcoming generations. These young people are being fed false interpretations and perspectives on mental health as well as disorders. One the one hand, social media can exaggerate disorders. They do this by portraying inaccurately distorted images of mental illnesses that emphasise either dangerousness, criminality and unpredictability. However, in reality, somebody with a mental disorder is much more likely to be a victim than, for example, being referred to as ‘crazy’. Labelling people in this sense can spread a harmful stereotype, and can falsely educate those around us. This fake portrayal and over-exaggeration, moves people with mental disorders under the category of people of whom, we do not routinely interact with. This constant flow of data gives us incessant social cues about the nature of other groups of people, and how we should ‘correctly’ interact with them. Essentially making society more judgemental, which is the last thing we want. Moreover, on the flip side, social media can oversimplify disorders. Coming back to the platform Tiktok. Videos in relation to mental health can underestimate the symptoms and severity of someone with a mental illness. For example, someone on Tiktok may post a short video about how to get out of a slump when you are feeling depressed on a particular day. By implying to the media that ‘being depressed’ is something that you can quickly get out of, is scientifically inaccurate. Someone with extreme depression may not even be able to get out of bed it is that severe. Episodes like these are mainly long-term and the individual may need therapy. So, this ‘over-simplification’ is again, another example of a negative stereotype.

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