Why social media is bad for mental health
Social media is inescapable. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Reddit, Snapchat… it has all become a part of our everyday lives. For many of us, it’s the first thing we check in the morning and the last thing at night – a pretty terrifying thought, right?
But, social media has changed over the years. What started as harmless fun has become a place for fakery, bullying and toxicity. Social media has become so detrimental to our mental health that it is often necessary to take breaks. Some of us have gave up on it entirely – and I don’t blame them. Social media has become more trouble than it’s worth for me and I have to use it sparingly for the sake of my wellbeing. But, why does social media affect me so much?
My first taste of social media was in the form of good old Bebo. Reaching the height of popularity while I was a teenager, it was where I spent a lot of my spare time – in between MSN, of course. Everyone I knew was on it. Crafting the perfect profile seemed like the most important thing in the world (how else would everyone know how random I was or every single band I’d only listened to once?). Remember the politics of ‘sharing the luv’, organising your top friends and drawing on each other’s walls? Simpler times.
For the most part, Bebo was fun. It was my first taste of having an online profile and only sharing the parts of my life I chose to. For me, it took a turn when you could update your status – sound familiar? This was the beginning of the end for Bebo, as Facebook became the new place to be. I first experienced the nasty side of social media when a girl I knew from school indirectly insulted me in her status on Bebo. I called her out because I knew it was about me and we haven’t spoken since – if only I’d known this was a sign of things to come.
Everyone jumped ship to Facebook around about the time I was old enough to drink – cue endless albums of drunken nights out and tagging every single person (and relentlessly untagging myself from other people’s photos). Facebook became a place where you would add someone you only met once, so your friends list was quickly cluttered with people you barely even knew. That’s the root of what became a major problem for me with Facebook.
Unfriending people on Facebook is a big deal because of that very reason. Most people have ‘friends’ on Facebook they hardly know, so when you get deleted it’s making a statement. It’s making a show of no longer wanting you in their life. You’re not even worthy of seeing the most basic parts of it anymore. I’ve had this happen to me far too many times, to the point where it’s malicious. For whatever reason, I’ve fallen out with someone in real life and they make a point of deleting me from Facebook. It’s petty, but you know what? It hurts. And they know it hurts, which is why they do it. It got so bad at one point that I deleted Facebook entirely to spare myself.
I went through a blissful time without Facebook and only got it back when I started doing my postgrad in Edinburgh because I was missing out on get-togethers my classmates were organising. It didn’t take long for it to happen again, though, and it sent my anxiety into overdrive. Now, I keep a very tight leash on who I have on Facebook and on the rare occasion, have to delete people first before they get the chance to delete me. It upsets me more than it rationally should, so I know I have to take control of the situation any way I can. I would absolutely delete Facebook again if I didn’t need to have a profile for other apps (the joys of dating…).
It took me a while to get into Instagram and primarily use it to follow animal (mostly dog) accounts. Of course, I post the odd selfie but my page is mostly pictures of the poodles and food – the two loves of my life. Instagram is criticised for its negative effect on body image, but that’s not what I find difficult about it. I don’t really care about strangers lying on a beach somewhere flaunting their killer bod. What I do care about is the people I know in real life that are posting pictures of all the fun they’re having… that I’m not. What I do care about is the people I know in real life that are posting pictures together… and didn’t invite me. I find that Instagram amplifies how empty my life can feel. But, I know that it is only a filtered (pun intended) version of people’s lives, which helps.
My favourite social media platform is now Twitter, particularly after getting more involved in the blogging and mental health communities on there. But, Twitter is not without its problems – and it comes back to the crossover between people you know in real life mixing with the online world. There are some people who simply do not follow you back. It shouldn’t matter, it really shouldn’t. But, when you see that person every day in the flesh and they refuse to acknowledge your presence online, it’s a little bit insulting. What’s worse is when someone you know (and see) every day blocks you online… The bitter side of social media is never more apparent.
Social media has become a huge part of our lives, but not for the better. It has become a way to publicly tear others down, to make a show of cutting them off, and present a false representation of our lives. For those like myself that struggle with mental health, it can be more difficult to deal with the nastiness of social media and disconnect from the effect it has on other aspects of life. We need to be more considerate online and remember that kindness costs nothing.