Social Media and Mental Health

Veronica Zazzaro, MS

Social media is an incredibly powerful tool for some very positive efforts, such as: connecting, story-telling, crowdfunding and other “social” movements that move society in a positive direction. However, much like other powerful tools, it can be a double-edged sword. With fire we can cook, weld and keep ourselves warm in the cold. We can also burn an entire forest down, when we aren’t careful. Harnessing nuclear power has allowed us to provide power to massive cities and small towns alike, however, we have also seen its harrowing destructive power. It may seem silly to compare social media to things like nuclear power, but, I think the way we have categorized it mentally as this shallow, frivolous, thing the “kids” are into,  has also limited our perspective on just how impactful it has been, large scale, to mental well-being.

Before continuing, I’d like to take a moment to say that this IS NOT another article about how social-media is the source of all the things going wrong in our society. Social media platforms such as Instagram, Reddit and Tumblr have done something incredible—they’ve given everyone a voice. More than ever, people from different countries, faiths and socio-political climates can share their truths and I believe it’s driven a sense of connectedness and understanding in ways that are unprecedented. When I think about how these tools have accelerated social growth, I feel a deep sense of pride. What I’ve decided to focus on in this article, however, is how these tools in all of their power, have created a few problems as well. Especially when it comes to it’s impact on the individual.

Social media has, in a way, turned us all into PR experts. Once you’ve had enough experience, it’s easy to know what kind of picture to post, at what time of day and which hashtags to put in a caption to get a the response YOU WANT. We are tailoring emotional responses to our personal lives—and so is everyone else. Image has always been important in U.S. culture and now we have the perfect platform to peacock on. It can be a constant barrage of everyone’s “best life.” If you’re “nailing it” on social media than you’re probably feeling an insane amount of pressure to keep up your apparent success and well-being, without fault. If your the one who sees these people “living their best lives” and don’t feel your life measures up, then it’s likely you will feel inadequate. In the end it can lead to everyone feeling like they will never be good enough. Is social media the problem? I don’t think it is. I think  what is happening on social media is a reflection of a society that values perfection and personal success above mental health and compassion, if I’m honest. These problems would be present even if we didn’t have these powerful tools to perpetuate them on. The colloquialism “keeping up with the Jones'” predates Facebook, for certain.

What I’m trying to point out is that it’s acting as a microphone for all of our voices and all of our feelings. That can be great and that can be not so great. Sometimes, what we scream into the “mic” is a message of perfectionism and superficiality. I think it is important to recognize that what we are seeing is what everyone wants us to see of their lives. Whether we are feeling driven to hide all of our faults or feel like we don’t quite measure up, we should remember how important it is to accept and love all parts of ourselves, even the parts that wouldn’t necessarily go “viral.” Everyone’s happiness and success is are unique to them, just as ours is to us.