Tap, tap. Instant gratification sent.
Social media, including, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, Facebook, and even LinkedIn, have spun the world of mental health education in full circle. From issues regarding instant connections, to societal pressures and comparing yourself to one another, the Google searches, research articles, and news titles that talk about the effects of social media on teenagers mental health are plentiful. However, this is not the only way social media has impacted mental health, and not the aspect of it that should be focused on. Instead, it is important that as a society we choose to use social media as a tool to provide a safe community and change the conversation (and stigma) around mental health.
As a user hits that heart button, thumbs up emoji, or double taps to give a photo a like, they are fueling the need for gratification of the rising generation of millennials. This is not necessarily negative, gratification is very important in motivation and drive. However, if someone spends forty-five minutes taking different photos, ten minutes deciding which photo will receive the largest response, another ten minutes editing the photo that no longer resembles who they are, but instead who they wish to be, they are developing this falsified version of self. Not only is that positive feedback from friends and followers only providing a compliment to this romanticized version of the person, it also provides a warped view of reality for others to compare themselves to. It is hard trap to not fall into, but it is the reality that social media creates.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
Advocates, educators, students, employees, and anyone else who has access to an audience, should instead use the speed of communication on social media as a tool to promote better mental health. Users can start a conversation, make people aware of resources, provide advice, and foster a community where people can come together to share their stories of both triumph and struggles, because that is what is real.
There have been efforts by many larger therapy establishments to create a branch of help online, allowing access to so many more people who may be struggling. This allows those who are not ready or not able to make an appointment for an in person visit to a therapist, to have immediate access and response when in need. UCLA’s Counseling and Psychological Services has an online service where students can ask questions without having to face the increasingly long waitlist to get an appointment. This, along with the online services of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and many others, allows immediate, online, anonymous chats with people who are trained to help with emergency situations. Such outlets prove the power of using the accessibility and speed of these online communication tools to better the world of mental health. These larger organizations have provided a space for the necessary private conversations to take place, however, destigmatizing mental health and starting a conversation, is something that can take place on social media. This can be as simple as correcting a friend, posting about one’s own struggles with mental illness to help normalize it, or constructively criticize certain media for their misrepresentation of mental health to educate others . In simple terms, we as a society need to leave behind the negative aspects of social media and instead, use it to stand up for what we believe in.
People commonly use mental illnesses as colloquial references to a temporary feeling, if we, as educated advocates of better mental health, see this, it is okay to step in and educate. The misuse of a word which undermines the true meaning of a mental illness or symptom is hurtful to many and diminishes what those who are struggling may be feeling. Not only is it okay to do this, but it is necessary to open people’s eyes to the effect of their words.
Sharing one’s own story is not an easy feat, and if you do not feel comfortable doing it, then don’t. However, if you do, it may help others feel like they are not alone. While one in five people live with a mental illness at some point in their life, we cannot see it, and this makes people shy away from sharing their story. If you are able to share, it will create a safe space for others to come and feel like part of a community.
The information out there is not always correct, and we know this. This flurry of fake news has everyone worried. Many times violence is blamed on a mental illness, movies and television series will provide false representations of mental illness, or news articles will provide misleading representations. As easy as it is to like or share a post, users can instead, quote and deconstruct some of these outlets for the mentioned flaws. This may start various conversations or debates, but those are the conversations that need to be had. They will help reveal and dissect the aspects of media that have helped create a stigma around mental health that has been so hard to break down. Instagram does not have to be a place of a warped reality. Share your real story.
Personally, as the Active Minds UCLA Marketing Director I post self-care tips weekly, motivational thoughts and quotes that encourage students that their pain is valid and has a place to be heard, and remind them of the resources available constantly. Through Facebook, I have had many conversations not only with alumni, but others across the nation who have been touched by our content and would like to get more involved in mental health advocacy in their neighborhood. This movement is as simple as spreading the message.
Our chapter here at UCLA, has also provided our followers and friends with photo campaigns that bring a community together. From our version of the Semicolon Project, to a Culture in Mind exhibit that exemplified the idea that regardless of what your background is or how you identify, you have mental health and it matters as much as anyone else’s. These visual aids allow our users to interact with the usual content of the platform that is intriguing and sensational, but sends an important message about mental health.
While approaching the Each Mind Matters event here at UCLA, my co-ambassador and I decided to focus on the LGBTQ Community and creating a safe space for healing and mindfulness. We decided on this approach because every story is so different, and we did not
want to invite people to a place and attempt to tell their story. We, instead, want to foster this community where everyone can come and share their story, find an even ground, and be proud of their identity. This is how we should approach our use of social media. Allow it to be a grounds for change and improvements. A place where anyone can come, ask questions, debate, share their stories, and feel safe, however they present themselves. Let social media be a platofrm that cares about what’s behind the screen. The instant gratification for helping someone through a hard time, or educating hundreds, is so much larger than that of a like on a selfie. Use it as the tool that it is.
Tap. Tap. Instant advocacy sent.
Active Minds is a mental health advocacy group on UCLA's campus that aims to change the conversation around mental health! Our goal is to educate and inspire the Bruin community to speak out about mental health. We are one of the twelve committees under the Student Wellness Commission on campus.