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World Mental Health Day: Mental Health + Social Media

This blog originally appeared on Sacred Health's blog which you can find here.

Today is World Mental Health Day. According to NAMI:

  • 1 in 5 US adults experience mental illness each year with anxiety disorders being the highest impacting an estimated 48 million people.

  • 1 in 20 US adults experience a serious mental illness each year, but less than two-thirds get treatment.

  • 1 in 6 US youth aged 6-17 experience a mental health disorder each year.

I am the 1 in 5.

I have major depressive disorder, anxiety disorder with anxiety and panic attacks, andwas diagnosed with agoraphobia in my late 20s. While I am not currently being treated for agoraphobia, it is still an issue as it can be triggered by a variety of things.The pandemic has caused me to have to work every day to make sure that I don’t fall back into the pattern where I am afraid to leave my house. It took a lot of work on thecoping mechanisms I know that work (car rides outside of the city being the most effective) and continued discussions with my therapist on how I was managing and what we needed to do to address any issues the isolation was causing.

According to the Pew Research Center, in the US 69% of adults and 81% of teens use social media. There’s a lot of debate about whether social media is harmful to our mental health. Whether it’s FOMO or the need to get some dopamine we all log into our favorite app and doom scroll a few times a day. We often forget that what we are viewing is curated to how we use the internet and social so we are seeing things that are meant to be of interest to us, even if they are something that can cause stress. I also like to remind everyone that what we are seeing of the lives of the people we follow is the highlight reel. Most people who use social media aren’t showing us their real lives. They are showing the overly filtered, happy version of their lives. Thankfully there are a lot of people living their honest lives on social media, especially in the chronic illness world, who are sharing what their realities are and educating others about their illnesses. This is especially helpful for someone who is newly diagnosed with a condition. Authenticity on social media is rare but something I strive to do with my own platforms. I will say that it isn’t always met with support. Being honest about my depression, anxiety and chronic illnesses is often met with unsolicited medical advice,someone telling me to cheer up or chin up, or even worse, people choosing to unfriend or unfollow me because they think I’m being negative, when the reality is, I’m just being honest. My life isn’t perfect. Neither is yours. Choosing to show reality on social media isn’t something everyone wants to do or see. Showing what you ate for dinner is more acceptable. With last week’s outage of Facebook and Instagram many people returned to say how pleasant it was to not have to log in and see the divisive behavior so commonplace on those platforms. It was a reminder of what life was like before checking Facebook was the first thing many people did when they woke up in the morning. Being connected 24/7 isn’t healthy for anyone. Unlike the average social media user, I can’t just deactivate my Facebook account for a month or two to take a break. Social Media is my job. My clients rely on me being connected in case something drastically goes wrong. My favorite story about how my job never stops and is often full of strange experiences is that I was once fielding complaints someone posted on Facebook instead of going to a person in the business they were currently sitting in. That’s not rare though, the reason this one stands out is that I was doing this while seated at the table for dinner during my childhood best friend’s wedding reception. Had I not responded, contacted my client, and made sure the complaint was taken care of it could’ve had a bad result. Instead the complaint was removed and replaced by someone praising the work the business did.

Social media, and by default, my job is 24/7, I’m literally logged into Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter all day every day. The brief breaks I get from social for a few hours or at max a few days is a welcome break for me. I encourage people who can disconnect to do so, every day. I often have clients, business owners, or friends say “oh I’m terrible I haven’t been on social for weeks” and I usually reply praising them for setting boundaries and taking a break. It’s also usually followed up by me telling them how jealous I am. Don’t get me wrong, I love my job, but all of the reasons that the average person needs a break from social are the reasons that Social Media Managers experience burnout at such high rates. So here’s some tips that can help you manage your social media use to help improve your mental health:

  • The unfollow or unfriend button is your friend. This might get a lot of backlash from people. ‘Why unfollow or unfriend someone just because they have different views than you?’ Normally I’d agree that having people with a different point of view is good. We learn from other people and their opinions. The Facebook comments section however is not going to be where we sway someone’s point of view and that’s okay. There’s no way to provide the non-verbal context that a normal conversation has on Facebook. As I like to say ‘sarcasm needs a font.’

  • Set an app limit on your phone. It’s easy to do. You can limit the amount of time that you’re able to access the social apps on your phone. If limits are set on an iPhone they give you a 5 minute warning before you reach your limit and after that you can’t access them. This is also a great thing to look at for teenagers. I have a lot of friends who do this and it helps them manage their time and stops the doom scrolling.

  • If the time limit doesn’t work, delete the social media apps from your phone. You can still access them in a browser, on a different device, or on a computer. You aren’t completely cut off but it makes it a little more challenging to access social apps and encourages you to do something else.

  • If you need to, take a social sabbatical. If you can do this, please understand how jealous I am. I think it’s completely healthy to give up social for a weekend, a week, a month, however long you want. I occasionally do this on weekends, though admittedly I usually only do it with Facebook and still access my Instagram. I leave the Business Manager app on my phone so if I need to react to something for a client I can but it allows me to set boundaries for my personal use.

  • Always, always, always remember that the majority of the time what you are seeing people post isn’t reality.Most of our friends aren’t sharing the outtakes of their family pictures where their child is screaming or crying. Admittedly when my friends do share these I am so happy to see them, life isn’t always picture perfect. If you follow a lot of celebrities please remember just how edited what they are showing is. They don’t actually look like that and they are usually getting paid to tell you what they are telling you. It is far from reality. We need to remember it’s for entertainment.

  • Monitor what your kids do on social. I do want to include that I am not a parent, but I’ve seen the way social can impact kids, so you can take this advice with a grain of salt if you’d like. It can be extremely hard on the mental health of a teenager to see the highlight reel of their friends. Make sure that they aren’t being targeted, bullied, or even worse, preyed upon by adults, it happens. Talking openly with your kids about what reality is versus what social media is can be a huge help.

I encourage you to try to be authentic and set healthy boundaries for yourself. Sure I’ve lost some Facebook friends because I ‘complain’ about things or I refuse to accept certain kinds of behavior. Just because a person feels fearless behind their keyboard does not mean you have to stay connected with them if what they are saying is harming your mental health. There is not a rule that we have to be Facebook friends with every person we’ve ever met or are related to. I’m open about my experiences for one reason and one reason only, if I can make someone feel less alone or decided to seek out help because I am honest about my life, good and bad, it’s worth every unfollow I’ve ever gotten. By showing our true selves we are helping other people understand that life isn’t perfect and that social media shouldn’t be either. Did you miss out on meeting Annie? Learn more about her here.

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