It may seem like a strange debate for a company that provides social media services to enter into. But a recent BBC feature Inside the weird world of Youtuber burnout has once again raised the question of social media’s impact on our mental health.
The video profiles some of the world’s high profile Youtubers and talks to them about their experience with mental health issues, with dealing with grief in the public eye, and of the need to chase likes, follows and views.
You can watch the short video yourself to hear the experiences of 11-year-old Mexican YouTuber Jessi. Following the death of her mother, she stopped “feeding the algorithm” and has seen her video views plummet as a result. However, as the interviewer explains, this only makes the “algorithm bite back”. Or Nina Dantes, who is a TikTok star who suffered from anxiety and suicidal thoughts at the pressure of having so many “fans”. A stark reminder that what you see on social media is not always as it seems.
What about the normal social media users?
Of course, it is only the 1% of social media users who make it to the dizzy heights of being an “influencer”. So, what about the normal users and their interactions with social media platforms?
A 2018 resarch report by the Centre for Mental Health found that social media addiction is potentially stronger than that of alcohol or tobacco, and affects around 5% of adolescents. Often resulting in a lack of sleep, or an ability to switch off after evening social media usage.
Other unhealthy side effects were identified in the report such as:
- Unhelpful or damaging comparisons
- Loneliness and social anxiety
The positives of social media and mental health
The report itself was not all bad news, as there were two strong positives to take away from social media usage.
The creation of social connections can have a very positive impact on a user’s self-esteem, aid self-identity and awareness as well as increasing social capital.
Social media is also a great tool for seeking help for those in need. Either through connections made on the various platforms, or through engaging with the diverse charities and organisations that use them to promote the availability of help and support for those that need it.
Is social media a good or a bad thing?
Of course the answer to this question is “it depends”. At the extremes of any type of use you find negative experiences. However, we can all agree on a few facts:
- Consuming yourself in social media usage is not going to result in a positive outcome. Whether that is on your mental health or on your life outside of it, you need to accept social media for what it is, and ensure a degree of moderation.
- Excessive use at a young age is ill advised. Jessi from Mexico who was profiled in the BBC video is 11 years of age and dealing with the passing of her Mother. That’s hard enough to deal with in itself without throwing in the pressure of entertaining thousands of fans at the same time. That can’t be healthy.
- We all need more education. Addicts are rarely aware of their addiction until it is too late. Those around them need more awareness of the signs to look out for and the potential implications of letting things slip. Social Media is still a new phenomenon and everyone is in the learning stage, from users to doctors and mental health professionals.
The immediate advice is to use social media for the value it can bring. But make sure you take time to look up from your phone, keep your real world connections, and ensure it isn’t detracting from the other important things in life.