What is mental health?
According to the World Health Organisation, (WHO), mental health is a state of mental well-being that enables people to cope with the stresses of life, realise their abilities, learn well and work well, and contribute to their community. This definition reiterates the importance of recognising that mental health isn't just about the issues people experience. It is also about how people cope and how they can maintain their positive mental health. However, it is something that over 30% of the population have to live with and struggle with every day. In autumn 2022, the Office of National Statistics, (ONS), reported that adults aged 16 to 29 were most likely to experience some form of depression (28%) and people aged 70 and over were least likely to experience a form of depression (8%). It was also found that women were more likely than men to report experiencing a form of depression across all age groups. Mental illnesses affect your mood and behaviour and isn't limited to just depression. A mental illness can be anything from eating disorders, anxiety, loneliness among many other things.
Mental health and social media
In the late 90's and early 2000's social media platforms such as Six Degrees and MySpace were launched. Since then, other social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter have taken the world by storm, with the most recent being TikTok. It is estimated that around 4.76 billion people in the world, (59% of the population), uses social media with the average daily time spent on it being 2 hours 31 minutes. While some of those accounts may not be individual people, instead businesses, it is still an extraordinary number considering social media has only been around for 25 years. It has allowed people to stay in contact with family and friends on the other side of the world, opened a new way to promote and market products or services, and has changed the way we have been able to go to work. These are all incredibly positive things but is it all as positive as it seems?
Negative effects of social media
A study conducted by Dr Paula Durlofsky showed a correlation between social media use and depression. Some reasons for this can be due to jealousy, loneliness, and body image insecurity while constantly seeing others on social media. It is important to remember that these people only post the best parts of their lives and what they want everyone to see, which can also be fake due to apps such as photoshop and airbrush. Constantly comparing yourself to fake lives will give you a negative impression about yourself. Social media has also made it too easy to be exposed to real-life problems. While it is important for these issues to be talked about and supported, constantly being exposed to them can have very negative effects. From personal experience, I have come across awful videos of war, disturbing videos of abuse, and constant news reports about murders and abductions. These videos being lumped together with other innocent content can make it confusing and upsetting to see. Most people find the time to scroll through social media before bed and if those kinds of videos are the last thing you see before you close your eyes, it is no surprise there are negative effects from it. There is a difference between being aware of problems in the world and being exposed to them, and social media blurs that line.
Why use it?
So, if we know all of this, then why do we do it? What makes us want to post that photo or continue scrolling? Quite simply, the answer is addiction. Take TikTok for example. You have got no idea what kind of video is going to appear next time you scroll. It's just an endless stream of videos from every creator across the world. The next video might be the funniest or most helpful video you have ever seen, but if you don't scroll, you won't see it. It could also be a video you don't want to be exposed to. There is no way of knowing what will be next, so you take your chance and scroll. When posting on Instagram, you are trying to show off your best self, having the best time. In doing so, you want people to acknowledge this which can make you addicted to validation. When someone validates you, dopamine is released, giving your brain a rush of pleasure. When you don't post or get that validation, your self-esteem and self-worth can decline, resulting in experiencing mental health illnesses.
What to do when you are feeling down
There are many different ways proven to improve you mental health, but these are the few that I find work best for me. The first way would be to get outside and do some exercise. Whether you are a part of a sports team, train at the gym, or just enjoy walking; exercising does wonders by releasing hormones and increasing oxygen in the brain. The second thing I would suggest would be to make time to do things you enjoy. Meeting up with friends, reading, cooking, whatever makes you happy. My final suggestion would be to look after yourself by eating well, getting rest, and having a break from social media if you want to. Challenge yourself by putting your social media notifications on silent for just one day and see what a difference it will make.