The impact of social media on mental health

Lately social media has been a keen topic of discussion in my life. The general consensus is that it’s a toxic environment and has a big impact on mental health.

I wrote a blog post previously on detoxing your social media. This is something I like to do fairly often, especially since social media algorithms have a habit of clouding our feeds with unrealistic and heavily edited images that can impact the way we view ourselves.

COVID-19 was awful, and so many people lost their lives that shouldn’t be forgotten. However, coronavirus did something that was much needed, which was bringing to light the struggle and impact of mental health. For the first time worldwide, people were openly talking about it.

Now more than ever before mental health is at the forefront of people’s minds. During lockdown, I remember the news talking about the the impact of mental health on children, and at first I couldn’t think what a child could have going on in their life to cause such significant mental health problems.

But, once lockdown was over and the world woke up, I noticed things I’d never really paid attention to before. Babies in pushchairs being given phones by their mothers to keep their quiet on the bus, children as young as two with phones, and kids throwing away their childhood dressed as adult when they should still be wearing pigtails.

There are time where I feel grateful to have grow up in the 90s. Social media didn’t enter my life until I was around 10/11-years old. When I think back on my childhood I don’t even remember things like the internet, social media and mobile phones, I remember being outside, the beach, Pokémon, The Spice Girls and going to the video store after school. I don’t think I got my first phone until I was nine and it was a brick Nokia that was good for making phone calls, texting and playing Snake.

I’m saddened by the fact that in 2022, children don’t get to experience a world outside of the internet. When I see kids playing outside in 2022 I get really shocked. A part of me can’t believe my eyes that kids still play kick-about with their friends, and climb trees because I see some many with phones in their hands 24/7.

At the start I said I didn’t understand why children would have mental health issues, but I do now. Social media is toxic and I say this as a 27 year-old-woman who has been affected by it. How can anyone not be? We’re only human.

Social media has this ability to turn the most rational person into a five-year-old who wants ice-cream before dinner. You post a selfie and suddenly your entire personality changes and you become wrapped up in wanting validation from strangers; and what happens if you don’t get it? You delete it. Like some how a person not liking a photo means you’re less than, or worse you get trolls and keyboard worriers who are the epitome of misery loves company and hide behind the anonymity of their computer posting hate comments just because “they can”.

Now, I’m not attacking social media – in all honesty I think when it’s used correctly it’s actually an amazing thing. At our fingertips we have a network that lets us communicate internationally, make friends and meet likeminded people, keep up to date with news and events, learn new things and more. It’s just unfortunate that with good also comes bad. It’s why we have a responsibility to ourselves to make sure that when we’re online we’re making the right choices.

Earlier this week I was sent something by a friend that nearly made me sick and it was a screenshot of an article announcing the fact that “heroine chic” was back. If you’re unfamiliar with the trend, this was an idealistic body type in the 90s made famous by Kate Moss for it’s controversial look “an extremely thin physique paired with pale skin, dark undereye circles, and often disheveled hair and clothing.”

I wanted so much to believe that this was just a passing thing she’d seen on social and I could forget about it. But then it came up on my feed and not just once. The reason this trend annoys me is because it promotes anorexia, so the idea that any news outlet would write about it made me really angry. Another reason I get angry, is because for a second, I get drawn in. A part of me wants so badly to be that thin, wants to know what it’s like to be that thin and I have to fight to urge to go make myself sick. As someone who in the past has forced myself to be sick after eating, having seen something like this on my feed and having to fight the urge to fall back into old habits, makes me angry. I get angry because I know there is a person behind that article who isn’t thinking about that. A person who isn’t thinking about the impact of those words and isn’t thinking about the one girl who wasn’t able to stop herself from being sick.

The reason I’m talking about this is because I want to talk about choices, and the choices we make when we go on social media. The choices I make, are to keep my social as light and fluffy as possible. I fill my social with the things that make me happy; self-love gurus, my favourite celebrities, funny animals and my friends. If something comes up on my feed that makes me feel shit it’s GONE, without a second thought. I believe in keeping m social media a toxic free zone.

However, it doesn’t stop sponsored posts, stupid algorithms and my phone’s microphone from listening in and targeting posts at me because it “thinks” it knows what I want to see.

I can’t 100% protect my social media from the bad stuff, and I can’t 100% protect myself from it. But what I can do, is control my choices and how I use social media. I can unfollow and block toxic people, I can control what I look at and watch and who I talk to. These are all choices I can make and control.

I know it’s so easy to get sucked up in the vortex that is social media. You watch one funny video and suddenly you’ve been scrolling without end for an hours; and just because the experience started funny and positive doesn’t means it’s continue on that road.

I’m not a parent and I’m not going to give any parenting advice, but one thing I will say is just because someone is younger than you, don’t underestimate the effect social media has on their mental health (and visa versa).

I’ve recently watched a lot of people in my life struggle with their mental health, myself included and it’s been tough. Social media comes up every time. Most of what we see is fake, edited, filtered and posed. Trust me when I say that influencer you want to be like, even they aren’t like that. That celebrity with the idealised body, well you can look like that to when you have a team of makeup artists, personal stylists, photographers and editors making you look photoshoot ready. It’s not real.

But you are. You are perfectly real and that’s better than anything the (the majority of) them pretend to be.


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