Social Media and Mental Health: Part 2

In my blog post from last week I surmised that social media and blogging are exceptionally helpful for those suffering from a mental illness, due to the fact that they can facilitate the ability to open up to friends/colleagues/family etc. They also can act as an information source for suffers and non-sufferers alike, and can help deliver the crucial message that nobody with depression or anxiety is alone, and it is remarkably easy to reach out to others in a similar situation. However, Adrian posted a pertinent comment in reply to my blog:

“This seems like it was a great article. I personally tend to focus on the negative aspects of social media, namely how using it sometimes makes me feel isolated or else compare my life unfavorably to others, but I think it’s mainly Facebook that makes me feel that way. It’s a good point that using social media to express feelings of anxiety and depression outside of your real-life social circle (like Instagram, Twitter, and Yik Yak) can be a positive outlet. Thanks for this post!”

He touched upon a very relevant and significant point, and one which I had intended to focus upon in a future blog post, but it seems sensible to address it now. The benefits and strengths of social media, namely acting as a global platform and communication source,  are also its downfall, and how it can lead to the triggering of depressive episodes, or making existing periods of low mood significantly worse. Certain images or posts can precipitate low mood, such as seeing photos of contemporaries from school who are getting married/having children (leading to thoughts like ‘will that ever happen to me’), or fellow facebookers smiling, having fun, going on holidays with friends etc. These can be triggers in ‘real life’ which proliferate feelings of sadness, desperation, hopelessness and self doubt, and with the rise of social media, shutting yourself away can no longer provide an escape from these factors. One of the features of depression is the necessity to self analyse yourself and make comparisons with other people, and the prevalence of social media (in particular Facebook and Instagram) ensures that this is done on a much larger scale.

Personally, I find social media less of a trigger when I’m feeling stable, however it can have a powerful effect on my mood if I’m already in a bad place. For example, if I’m thinking thoughts such as ‘I don’t have friends/am not in peoples thoughts’, or if I’m frustrated by my anxiety preventing me from going and and doing activities that I want to do, then seeing a photo of a group of friends doing an activity together or on a night out can inevitably lead me to feeling extremely down and demoralised. It provokes feelings of unfounded jealousy, inadequacy and longing. It confirms predetermined falsehoods, and helps foster the incorrect but deeply believed thoughts and feelings about myself, my predictions of how others view me, and also  my prospects (or lack of) for the future.

Another negative impact of social media is an issue I have touched upon in previous posts, and concerns the eruption of nostalgic feelings when viewing images from the past. Seeing a photo of myself as a child is a trigger to negative though processes, including the inevitable questioning of everything that has happened from that point to the present moment, as well as a deep yearning to go back to that time when wide eyed innocence took the place of todays anguish, anxiety, regret and fear. Of course, I look at these memories through rose tinted glasses, as undoubtedly there were worries, concerns and anxieties that existed to me back then, but the power of hindsight and backward reflection, in relation to depression, is that you have no control of what the mind decides to focus upon. For me I see an idealised presentation of what my life was, which evokes a real desire to go back to that moment, and that time in my life, rather than where I find myself now at the end of my twenties.

Social Media therefore is both a positive means for expression, but also a proven trigger for many of the negative aspects of mental illness. It is a both a blessing and a curse, and the key is to learn how to utilise its positive aspects and negate its negative. Social Media essentially is a digital representation of real life, where the words that hurt are written rather than spoken, the stimuli that evoke memories are pictorial rather than anecdotal, and the way to reach out to others is through taps on a keyboard rather than whispers down the phone. Times changes, but sadly the negative and destructive mindset doesn’t. It’s just a case of trying to use social media for its positive enabling abilities, and shielding yourself from its unnerving capacity to break your resolve.

“There are many things of which a wise man might wish to be ignorant”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

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