I quit Instagram in January. My mental health was taking a shake and I noticed I was flicking through my news feed and posting a story update every other hour because, frankly, I was looking for a validation fix. Shortly afterwards, I quit the rest of my social platforms. Am I over-reacting by cutting myself off from the digital world? Probably, but not without reason.
Social media has turned us into ants under a magnifying glass. With highly doctored, photoshopped and curated images poisoning our newsfeeds it’s easy to fall into the belief that your modest, average, and frankly normal posts are completely below par. Instagram, as an example, has established a comparison culture that enforces ridiculous social expectations and pressures on its users. A survey by the Young Health Movement stated 7 in 10 young people said Instagram made them feel worse about their bodies.
And if it’s not our bodies, it’s our experiences. FOMO is real. How are you supposed to feel good about your life when you’re constantly seeing updates of people you know having ‘fun’? According to psychologists at the University of Pittsburgh, the longer people spend on social media, the higher feelings of isolation, loneliness and envy get.
But let’s remember that social media can and has been used for good. Incredible things have happened because of social media that have made lasting benefits to our wellbeing.
Community is at the heart of every online platform, and when social communities band together for the greater good, incredible things come to fruition. Movements like #BlackLivesMatter, #MeToo and the Body Positivity movement are inspiring millions of people around the world to speak up and out for change. It provides people with an opportunity to communicate with the likes of high standing members of society, celebrities and corporations and hold them accountable for their actions. At an even more basic level, the fundamental reality of why we use social media every day is for connecting with those we care about. Social media can be transformed as an arena for loneliness: it is a universal welcome for those that may be physically distant from us.
We must be aware of the positives and negatives of social media. We must participate in making social platforms a safe place for people to enjoy. Social media was made for the benefit of communities of people, and hence it is up to our communities to keep it safe for us to use. Currently, we have failed to consider how our mental health is impacted by our digital lives, but like with all experiences, we must learn from what we know, move on and make sure that the next generation of users are connected, aware and healthy.
I’m probably going to get back on Instagram one day. I’m in no rush to get back on it again, and I have no issue to stay off it again either. But what about you?
- Julie-Ann Robertson is a mixed race Arab-South African mental health activist, writer, and TV producer, who has written articles, essays, poetry, fiction and autobiographical pieces for several magazines and online platforms. You can examples of her work on her Instagram @jar8694