Today I've been wracking my brain trying to think of something to write about. It's not that there is nothing to talk about, there are many topics that I could throw a few thoughts at, but I couldn't decide where to start. Then, being the massive procrastinator I am I thought I'd just surf the web for a while. I found a couple articles, all talking about Mental Health and how technology is a problem. This then lead me to Twitter, where people were talking about said articles, which ultimately resulted in several people furiously sending messages to news outlets for various offense's. A topic I kept finding topic was an argument that social media has promoted Mental Illness, and whether or not people agree that Mental Health should be talked about in such an open format.
I expect a few of you can guess which side I favor, but it is an interesting argument, so today I'd like to share my own musings on the subject.
Lets start with the main argument; 'Does Social Media effect Mental Health?'
The short answer to this question is yes. Of course it has an effect on mental health. The moment someone with a Mental Health condition reads or writes something, it's going to have an effect. From what little I could gather, a lot of reporters are now pointing at social media and blaming them for the rise in Mental Health. I disagree with this apparent 'rise in mental health'. I think it's more a rise in people actually talking about it for a change, rather than hiding away as if we should be ashamed of ourselves.
To give them some credit they do make some valid points. Social Media, and the internet in general, exposes people to cyber bullying. There's not really a need to label it, bullying is the same regardless of its platform. Bullying itself is interesting, the reasons as to why it occurs do vary, but its nature is relatively constant. You find a person's weakness and you throw it at them. In this instance, the articles have noted something that is relevant and is a problem, but the extent of the problem is what I'm going to disagree with.
Yes, it is now very easy to bully people without ever have to actually see or speak to them, but this is not something new. I remember being at school around the time that everyone was getting their first mobile phones (I think half of my school owned a Sony-Ericcson, only the popular kids got the flip-phones). Back then all you had to do was get hold of someone else's number to send them hurtful texts or a very creepy voicemail. (I had one of those once, it was rather unsettling). The difference with social media is that it's now a lot easier to find the target and start abusing them publicly.
Personally, I don't see this as a mental health issue, more a sociological issue. Yes, people with mental conditions are often targets, but so are people with strange haircuts or bad profile pictures. Bullying is wrong in any scenario, that's a fact, and it is not solely about Mental Health. In my opinion Social Media is a two-way door for those with Mental Health. I believe that when used properly, Social Media can really help people, particularly those that feel isolated. Then again, I've seen people get isolated because of their own conditions and how people reacted. In either case it is not Facebook or Twitter that is the problem, it's the people that use it to hurt others.
One positive that I've experienced is that talking about Mental Health openly has really boosted my confidence. The more people I see talking, the better it gets. No, it doesn't make my conditions go away, but it's nice to finally 'see' these other people that I've been told about. Even better, is that with increased coverage the message becomes more positive. Their are various Pages on Facebook and profiles on tumblr dedicated to talking about things that don't get talked about. People that at one time were forced into hiding now have a voice! Whilst I'll admit that there is always a risk of being bullied online, there is also a far higher chance that the people doing the bullying get shut down. As we all know, you can't really hide online, and that applies to the bullies too.
Another problem that has been pointed out is how it effects young people. 'Surveys' have noted that many social media platforms have a negative impact on self-esteem. Most of this is brought on by feelings of inadequacy and increasing anxiety. I hope I don't upset anyone, but I'm certain the same thing has been said about TV, toys, magazines and even, wait for it, newspaper articles. It's not really something to joke about but it is kind of ridiculous. Everyone nowadays is exposed to the same material. Girls think they have to look a certain way, boys think they have to act a certain way. This is not a new problem. This is a problem that has existed for thousands of years. A historical example is Cleopatra, that beautiful woman from Egyptian times? Hate to burst the bubble, but there is a lot of evidence that suggests she wasn't beautiful at all, even by the standards of ancient Egypt. It was all a publicity stunt.
Therefore, the articles are correct, but they are not portraying it properly. Media in any form is at fault here. Advertisements, corporations, politicians, all of them are responsible. The reason as to why they are responsible is simple, all these people or groups are looking to 'sell' something. Whether it's clothing or cars, campaigns or propaganda, or even simple ideologies, the people responsible are those that commission that content. However, with people using social media more and more, some of these corporations are having to 'tone it down', because the general population isn't as oblivious as it once was.
So to wrap it all up, is social media a bad thing in terms of Mental Health? Potentially. However, it's only with the increased use of such platforms that we have seen a decline in social stigma, even if it is still small. If you really think about it, anything that involves people can potentially harm people. It is up to us to determine what effect Social Media has. Either way, Social Media is not going anywhere, so I think we might as well make it work for us and form a community where we can talk about the things that bother us.
Over to you now. What is your opinion on Social Media? Do you disagree with me, and if so why? I'd love to hear some of your thoughts and the feedback is always appreciated.
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This has been,
A Jackals Voice.