Social media started negatively impacting my mental health when my second baby was around 2 weeks old, I was 25. There was an incident one day when I was bathing him, he rolled his face into the water and a few heartbeats passed before I noticed. My son was fine, a little shaken up but nothing a cuddle couldn’t soothe. I, on the other hand, was feeling guilty and anxious and began to search online about water safety and babies. Anxiety rose within me and I kept checking my son was still breathing. I eventually stopped scrolling and fell into an uneasy sleep, terrified when I woke my baby wouldn’t be breathing.
The next day I was scrolling through Facebook and saw a news article in my newsfeed. The headline caught my eye immediately, I was still on edge and when I saw the words ‘secondary drowning’ my heart sank. The story was about a child who’d drowned, 24hours after he was last in water; apparently, it’s possible to ‘drown’ out of water if it has got into your lungs. My anxiety increased, and I was convinced this was going to happen to my baby. I was scared for days that something bad was going to happen.
Over the next few days, more stories flashed up in my news feed, each one worsening my anxiety and I was left feeling like my baby was in imminent danger. For every usual 10 updates, there was a mum posting in a group about the dangers of car seats/cot bumpers/choking – the list of potential ways I was being told my baby could die was overwhelming. For a long time, Facebook had a really damaging effect on my mental wellbeing.
Other social media platforms were just as harmful. When I was suffering with postnatal depression, I would go on Instagram and as I scrolled through everyone’s photos I would feel like everyone else was happy apart from me. I’d see photos of mums smiling with their babies, captioned with tales from their lovely day. There’d be pictures of toddlers hugging their siblings and I’d feel awful because my eldest was showing no interest in his brother at all. Everyone seemed to be happy and after 10 minutes on Instagram I could be left feeling inadequate and like a rubbish mum for days.
Occasionally if something was troubling me, I would pop on to twitter, write my worries in a tweet and ask if anyone else was feeling the same. I wasn’t worried about being trolled, I just wanted to know there were others who understood how I felt. Unfortunately, most of the time there wasn’t. Whenever I checked my notifications and no one had replied, my heart would sink into the painful part of my chest and I’d feel like crying. Despite having lots of followers, often social media made me feel incredibly lonely.
I am not holding social media solely responsible for struggles but I do believe it did play a massive role in intensifying my anxiety and depression. I ended up deleting Facebook from my phone for months, the constant negativity and scare mongering got too much for me. I also realised the majority of people only share the happy times online, that doesn’t mean they don’t have tough days too. I haven’t always shared the bad times on my social media accounts, instead choosing to post a perfectly crafted version of my life, omitting the darker moments. Those days are gone, honesty online and offline is always the best thing you can do for others and, most importantly, for yourself.