Using social media for mental health resources
We’ve all seen the Instagram egg. After surpassing Kylie Jenner for the most likes on an Instagram post, it seemed like a scheme for likes and attention on the internet – and maybe it was – but soon the account changed their tune.
The account began gradually posting pictures of the same egg, but with cracks in it. In every post, the egg had more and more cracks. Finally, the egg account made a post with the egg completely cracked and the egg – yes, the egg itself – addressed its vast Instagram audience.
The egg noted how it had recently started to crack and said it happened under the pressure of social media. The post also featured a message from the egg saying that anyone who is feeling the same kind of pressure should talk to someone, followed by a, “We got this.”
Even though this account is a silly and seemingly insignificant look into online culture, there is a lot to be said about the egg’s message. Such an important post from what started as a joke account has a surprisingly important message about mental health and the pressures of social media.
Since this post, I’ve done a lot of thinking about the polarity of messages on social media. While social media can be detrimental to the mental health of its users, there are still positive messages and access to communities that provide support for mental health issues. Social media has also been pivotal in users discovering resources.
Here at Ball State, students have more mental health resources than they might know about. I know when I first arrived here in Muncie, I was unaware of the counseling center or the workshops and other services that Ball State provides.
At the time, this information could have made my first semester experience incredibly different, since my mental health was going downhill pretty significantly.
That’s why social media still matters to mental health. The counseling center actually has a Facebook and a Twitter that they use to share information about the resources and options they provide to students.
Ellen Lucas is a psychologist who works at the counseling center. She is also the associate director of outreach and consultation. Lucas has been a psychologist for many years and specializes in eating disorders. She also runs the social media for the counseling center.
In an interview with Byte, Lucas talked about how social media can contribute to worsen symptoms of mental illnesses such as heightened depression, poor self-esteem, and even insomnia.
She said that social media helps build perceptions about oneself based on digital interactions with others. Social media contributes to a fear of missing out — commonly called FOMO in online spaces — as well as negative messages from others that might not come from in-person interaction. Both of these aspects of online spaces play a huge role in intensifying symptoms of mental illness.
Though Lucas recognized the multiple issues that can result from excessive social media use, she also gave some insight into how providers of mental health resources, such as the counseling center, can reach out to those who need their services through social media.
“It can help the mental health of users in terms of just educating people about mental health, it can help people access resources in ways that they probably couldn’t get to another way. There’s even telepsychology now and help online, so there’s a lot of positives,” Lucas said. “It’s a way to connect with people, stay in touch with people and support people. I think celebrating each other’s successes are all very positive kinds of things… of course, there are positives there or people wouldn’t be using it so much.”
Just like with the Instagram Egg account, social media can give people a platform to tell their story and also get behind the effort to destigmatize mental illness and seek help.
“I think that social media has helped to destigmatize mental illness. So I think without social media, without people saying ‘yes I have bipolar disorder,’ you know, celebrities, people saying they struggle with depression or bulimia,” said Lucas. “I think that’s really helped to destigmatize mental health and mental illness and getting help. Without it, people just weren’t talking about it in the way that they are now. People were not as comfortable to get services and to reach out and share their stories the way they do now.”
In 2012, The Atlantic also published an article about how social media affects the lives of its users as far as feeling loneliness. The article cites this as a cause of many different health issues, including mental health issues.
The article from The Atlantic also says that social media facilitates comparisons between oneself and one’s followers and friends. The constant fear of missing out, as Lucas mentioned, consistently contributes to feeling disappointment in one’s own activities and daily life.
Even though social media expedites the feeling of disappointment in oneself through constant use and constant comparison to others, The Atlantic also came to a different conclusion about social media use.
So… maybe social media is not the ultimate enemy. Maybe it’s not the one true downfall of meaningful relationships. Maybe the real enemy of mental and social well-being is the excessive use and constant comparison.
“For it to be constructive, you also have to limit your time on social media. I think too much of a good thing becomes not-so-good and that’s not just about social media, that’s about a lot of different things. So I think you need to be careful about how much time you spend on social media as well,” said Lucas.
The truth is that no matter how many negatives come from social media, it is still a beacon of hope in the lives of those who are struggling.
In the end, the real enemy is excessiveness and constant comparison. We could all take some time to introspect and be satisfied with what makes us happy, rather than what we think we need to be like based on what the internet presents to us.
Taking some time to develop healthy habits of social media consumption, as well as knowing options for resources and services, could contribute to a healthier mindset.
At the end of the day, mental illness and social pressures won’t go away just because you followed an inspirational Twitter account or followed the counseling center online, but it is a great way to weave self-care into daily activities that you’re already doing and broaden your access to available resources. It’s all about learning to use social media for self-care and positivity.
Featured Image: Katherine Sinkovics