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What is Social Media Doing to our Mental Health? by Lydia Barnes

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What is Social Media Doing to our Mental Health? by Lydia Barnes

After the strange events that have been thrown at us this year, 2020 has caused a lot of stress and anxiety, leading to an increase in mental health issues affecting teenagers across the UK. On the 23rd of March the country was told, “You should not meet with friends. If your friends ask you to meet, you should say no. You should not meet family members who do not live in your home. You should not go shopping except for essentials like food and medicine - and you should do this as little as you can.” We were also told it would only be for the short duration of just over two weeks, but we were then plunged head first into a six month lockdown, which cut our school year short and left 4.7 million students unable to sit their GCSE and A level exams.

Being confined to our homes for a long period of time has allowed people to indulge more in social media. However, studies have found a strong link between passive use of social media and an increase in mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety, lower self-esteem and dramatic changes in sleeping patterns. Approximately 67% of the UK population use social media and it has been proven that teens with high emotional investment with the platform are more likely to feel anxious and depressed. In 2019, 42.8% of students reported high levels of anxiety and 21.5% said they have been diagnosed with a mental health illness (most commonly depression). The Royal College of Psychiatrists saw a 43% increase in urgent/emergency cases of mental health issues in teens in May 2020, after “forecasting a ‘tsunami’ of mental illness”.

We come across societal expectations of men and women on social media every day. This can be very toxic for our mental health as we end up comparing ourselves to influencers with a lot of money, fancy cars and ‘perfect’ bodies. That’s not to say that these influencers don’t also have flaws and imperfections, but they generally prefer to appear ‘perfect’ by editing their posts.

Depression rates are higher in women than in men, an NHS survey has found. It has been suggested that this is because girls reach puberty before boys do, meaning that they’re more likely to develop depression at an earlier age. This does not, however, mean that boys don’t also struggle with their mental health, as experts believe that more men are affected by depression than is reported, which is suggested by the high number of male suicides. In a survey by Priory which focused on men’s mental health, 40% of men admitted that they’ve “learned to deal with it” and 29% are “too embarrassed” to get help and talk about their problems. This is because it has been engraved into society’s mindset that men should always be strong, making them feel that if they were to speak out about their issues it would make them appear weak. This is not the case, however. Safeline (a specialised charity that helps people who suffer from mental health issues) has nicknamed it, the Silent Crisis stating, “Mental health in men continues to be a taboo subject, with many men suffering in silence when they experience feelings of sadness, loneliness or anxiety.”

Just like others my age, I also use social media on a daily basis to follow and admire celebrities and influencers, watching their lives unfold through my mobile screen, imagining myself in their position. I will admit that sometimes viewing these people’s ‘perfect’ Instagram feeds does make me feel jealous and slightly insecure, although many of them have now admitted to editing their posts, and have begun to show off and be proud of their flaws, encouraging others to do the same.

Mental health affects all people, especially the young, as stated by the World Health Organisation: “Half of all mental health conditions start by 14 years of age, but most cases go undetected and untreated.” It is extremely important to know that there are organisations in the UK that can help if you are ever struggling and feel like you need support. Keeping it to yourself can be dangerous, as it leads to an unhealthy build up of feelings, which can cause more anxiety and distress. Even just speaking to a professional over the phone can help. These organisations aren’t only for those suffering with mental health issues, but also for those around them who would like some guidance on how to keep their friend or family member safe. Below are contact details for just a few of the many mental health charities and organisations in the UK. If you require another type of support, such as support for bipolar disorder, men’s health, abuse, eating disorders etc, there is a link to a website full of other charities and organisations suggested by the NHS below.

Remember, we all live in this society which, at times, piles unsustainable levels of pressure onto us, but we can help each other look after our mental health.

Phone: 0300 123 3393 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 6pm)

Phone: 116 123 (free 24-hour helpline)

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