Can you remember the days before DM, hashtags and emojis? When we had to call our friends on their landlines to arrange when and where to meet, hoping they would arrive at the right time and right place?
It’s hard to believe that 10 years ago Facebook had only just been founded and Twitter hadn’t even launched, and yet social media is now an established phenomenon that most of us can’t imagine living without.
The wonder of social media has benefited modern society greatly and revolutionised the way we communicate. On the surface, these platforms may seem harmless but in reality, some research has found that they may actually be detrimental to our mental wellbeing. On the flip side, social media can provide people living with mental health problems a platform to communicate freely and connect with others who can provide support.
So should we be limiting our use of social media for a better quality of life, or is it actually providing some with a much-needed outlet? We hosted a panel discussion at Social Media Week in London, where experts shared their insights on this very topic.
An interesting theme that was raised during the discussion was personal identity and the effect that social media has on how people regard their place in the world and define themselves. Dr Linda Papadopoulos, a psychologist, revealed that nowadays it’s not just the people we know who help to shape our identity—having an online profile means that validation can come from complete strangers with no real vested interest in us. This constant feeling of being assessed by others can have a negative effect on our mental health and make us want to always make a good impression, even to those who don’t know us.
Another thought-provoking point that was highlighted, by the panellist and blogger Mark Brown, was that having immediate access to carefully crafted selfies means that we are the first generation to know exactly what we look like and how we come across to strangers at all times. More and more we are presenting ourselves as near to perfect as possible, but the truth is that we don’t always know what’s going on behind a filtered online persona. Stories that we see in the media about suicide that link to the use of social media highlight that a self-curated online identity can so easily conceal the saddening reality.
While there were discussions around the negative effects that social media can have on our lives, Chris Cox, Communications Director at Mind, emphasised how social media forums, such as Elefriends, provide platforms for people to communicate freely about their condition. They also give people an opportunity to connect with others who can relate to them or who can provide comfort and counsel.
So is social media a good or bad thing for mental health? Because social media is such a new and emerging area, it’s difficult to say at this point, but what is clear is that, used in the right way, it can be a valuable resource that exposes us to information and people who we would have never been able to access before. As our panel concluded, social media is neither good nor bad; it’s a tool to amplify the voice of the people.
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