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Could social media be affecting our mental health?

Since the explosion of social media over ten years ago, we’ve witnessed a societal change. Not only can we build relationships with people online, but it’s changed the way in which we share and disseminate information about our lives. 

But what is the impact of this change upon our mental health? Have we grown so used to sharing every detail that we’ve forgotten who we are? As young people base their self-esteem upon the number of ‘likes’ they receive on Instagram, perhaps we need to think about how social media is changing the way in which we think about ourselves. This is an issue that could have a real impact not just on AMHP jobs but, on child protection jobs, and social worker jobs overall.

Undoubtedly social media has contributed many positive benefits to users as they are able to build meaningful relationships with people from all walks of life, but what are the dangers that we need to think about when we next log in to our Facebook or Twitter accounts?

The Millennial generation

Young people aged 16-24 are the most active users of social media; they are a generation of people who have never known life without access to a smart phone. They have grown up instinctively knowing how to interact and communicate online, yet it is this age group which is reporting soaring cases of anxiety, depression and even cyber-bullying. Could this be connected?

A report published by the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) has looked into the impact of social media upon the mental health of young people. It has concluded that those who spent more than two hours per day on social networking sites are more likely to report poor mental health due to the unrealistic expectations set by images published on social media sites. The use of filters, photoshop and staging has led to the development of a so-called ‘perfect online life’ which could result in low self-esteem and self-consciousness as users compete for likes. 

Social media has also led to the development of ‘Fear of Missing Out’ (FoMO) which is a need to be constantly connected with people online as they are worried they may miss out on something. The report highlights FoMO as something which has “grown in popular culture since the advent of social media.” It states that whilst FoMO may not be a problem for most people, it can lead to further feelings of anxiety and inadequacy. 

When social media turns bad

Thanks to the anonymity of social media platforms, users have reported regular complaints of online bullying. According to RSPH’S report, seven in ten young people have experienced incidents of cyber-bullying, whilst almost half of all adults say that they have seen something that has upset or offended them on social media within the past year. 

The issue has become so widespread, that the UK government has proposed an Internet Safety Strategy which will not only incorporate an industry-levy for social media and communication companies, but it will also require an annual ‘internet transparency’ report which will show the progress on how abusive and harmful content is dealt with. The strategy, and it’s resulting Green Paper, will be the first step in the development of a Digital Charter which will provide a framework for how people should act online. 

Changing how we use social media

What can we do to protect ourselves, and others, online? The RSPH suggests that whilst social media platforms could do a lot more to protect their users (such as clearer references to images which have been heavily photoshopped or implementing a verification scheme to avoid the growing issue of ‘fake news’), there are things we can do to help protect the mental health and wellbeing of social media users.  

For those working with vulnerable people, it is recommended that skills should be updated with some form of digital media training. As a generation of young people have grown up with social networking, it is no longer possible to support their overall health without having an up-to-date knowledge and understanding of the pressures caused by social media. 

There are also calls for safe social media to be taught in schools – by teaching the different effects of social media, we can equip young people with the tools to emotionally handle online behaviour as well as signpost them to any necessary support services. 

Keeping you up to date

As more research is undertaken into the issues relating to social media and emotional wellbeing, we will start to really understand it’s true impact. Keep an eye out on as we will continue to report on these issues as more information is published. 

If you would like to update your skills and knowledge regarding online safety, why not take a look at the online training courses courtesy of Sanctuary Training? As well as specific training for those working with children and adults, there is also a dedicated course for issues relating to bullying and cyberbullying

The latest insights into stressors on the public’s mental health is relevant across many healthcare professions. Not just obvious ones like a Psychological Wellbeing Practitioner (a ‘PWP’) and or a Clinical Psychologist – this could even help a generalist Healthcare Assistant identify troubling patterns with a patient.

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