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Nurturing Mental Wellbeing in the Age of Social Media

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By Tracy Akpebe, Florence Ajodo, Winner Enuma, Chinedu Oliogu & Agatha Tuoyo

Every September 10 has been aside as World Mental Health Day. This year, the World Foundation of Mental Health carefully chose the theme, ‘Mental health is a universal human right’, to underscore the importance of a mentally stable citizenry across the globe.

In this digital age, social media technologies have become an integral part of our daily lives. It has revolutionized the way we communicate, connect, and share information with others. With the widespread availability of smartphones and internet access, social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat have gained immense popularity.

Social media platforms provide us with a convenient and accessible way to stay connected with friends, family, and even strangers from across the globe. We can easily share our thoughts, experiences, and photos with a wide audience. It allows us to maintain relationships, even when physical distances separate us. We can stay updated with the lives of our loved ones and share in their joys and accomplishments.

Moreover, social media has become a powerful tool for information dissemination. News, trends, and important events can be shared and discussed in real time. It has become a platform for constructive conversations, social activism, and raising awareness about important issues. Social media also plays a significant role in shaping public opinion by providing a platform for diverse voices and perspectives to be heard.

For businesses and entrepreneurs, social media has opened up new avenues for promotion and marketing. Brands can reach a wider audience, engage with customers, and gather valuable insights about their target market. Social media platforms provide an opportunity for businesses to showcase their products or services, increase brand visibility, and create a sense of community around their brand.

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However, with the benefits come potential drawbacks. Spending excessive time on social media can negatively impact our mental health and well-being. The constant exposure to curated content and comparison with others’ highlight reels can lead to feelings of inadequacy, low self-esteem, and even depression. Cyberbullying, privacy concerns, and the addictive nature of social media are also challenges we must navigate.

As social media continues to evolve, we must approach it mindfully. Setting healthy boundaries, cultivating meaningful connections, and prioritizing self-care are essential steps in maintaining a healthy relationship with social media. It is important to remember that while social media offers many advantages, connecting with others offline and living in the present moment are equally important for our overall well-being.

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However, there is growing concern about its impact on mental health. While social media can offer opportunities for self-expression and communication, we must also acknowledge the potential risks it poses to our well-being.

Social media has been a great way of connecting people and building relationships which can be beneficial for mental health. It has both positive and negative sides. One of the negative effects of social media on mental health is that it can lead to feelings of loneliness and isolation, especially if people compare themselves to others on social media and don’t level up. It is certainly a real concern, most especially for younger generations who are growing up with social media as a big part of their lives. 

Social media has associations with anxiety and isolation, particularly among heavy users. A Sense survey conducted in 2015 found that teenagers may spend as much as nine hours each day online. Many of these individuals are concerned that they spend too much time browsing social networks. This wave of concern suggests that social media could affect the mental health of its users.

Social media also affects the quality of sleep. So many individuals get carried away by what they see on social media that they don’t get the quality sleep that is required daily and high-quality sleep is essential for mental wellbeing.

Aside from the adverse effects on sleep, social media may trigger mental health struggles by exposing individuals to cyberbullying. One question that comes to mind is; Do you think social media can create unrealistic expectations about what life should be, leading to dissatisfaction and negative feelings about oneself? Social media often presents an idealised version of life, which can lead to feelings of inadequacy. This is very true for young people who are still developing their sense of identity and self-worth.

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Another question is, do you think the overuse of social media can lead to unhealthy levels of screen time and distraction? Certainly, Research has shown that excessive use of social media can have negative effects on attention span, focus and production. It can also interfere with one’s sleep, which has negative effects on mental health.

Some negative effects include the following:                 

Unfiltered Comparison

One of the key issues with social media is the constant exposure to the carefully curated lifestyles of others. It is easy to fall into the trap of comparing our lives to their seemingly perfect ones, leading to feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem. We must remind ourselves that what we see on social media is often a highlight reel, not the whole story.

Negative Feedback and Cyberbullying

Unfortunately, social media can also be a breeding ground for negative feedback and cyberbullying. Comments or messages that criticize, mock, or belittle can deeply impact one’s mental health. We must foster a culture of kindness and respect, stepping in to support those who are targeted and not perpetuate the cycle of online negativity.

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The Filtered Reality

On social media, people generally present their best selves. It’s easy to forget that behind the perfectly curated posts and edited photos, there are real emotions, hardships, and hardships faced by everyone. It is essential to remember that what we see is not always an accurate representation of reality. Being transparent about our struggles can help remind others that they are not alone in their challenges.

One important question that comes to mind is, what can be done to alleviate these negative effects? In my opinion, there are a series of solutions that can be used to alleviate these negative effects on mental health. One common recommendation is to set a time limit on social media use and take a break from screens.

Before this recommendation can be implemented, there is a big challenge to it, which is, if social media users would stick to setting time limits on how they engage themselves on social media. Social media is designed to be addictive and keep us scrolling. People have personal responsibility for how they make use of social media. At the same time, social media companies do have control over certain assistance of the user’s experience, for example, notification that pops up on one’s screen.

Another question is, do you think these design features could be modified to encourage healthier use of social media? I think a lot of people would agree that these features should be modified because social media companies have a financial incentive to keep users engaged on their platforms, even if it comes at the cost of the users’ mental health.

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It is very difficult to convince people about the impact of social media on mental health especially the negative effects of it. One way that users can be convinced is through Public Service Announcement (PSAs) which is similar to the way PSAs for public health issues have been carried out. Public service announcement is a great way to reach a wide audience, and they can be effective if it is done well.

One way to complement PSAs might be to integrate social media literacy into existing school curricula. That way, students would learn about these issues in the context of other subjects like media studies or digital citizenship.

Public libraries are another way that can be used to promote social media literacy. Classes and workshops could be offered on the topic, and they could also provide resources for people to learn more on their own. Also, E-libraries are an amazing resource for so many people and could be a great way to promote social media literacy. They could provide access to a wide range of resources, including online courses, articles, and interactive learning tools. Those in charge should make sure that e-libraries have the resources and funding they need to implement these programs.

Another significant challenge could be reaching out to people who don’t have access to the internet or those who don’t feel comfortable making use of the computer. Sometimes, recognizing these challenges is the first step to finding solutions. A possible solution to the finding challenge could be a partnership between e-libraries and other organisations like, local businesses or community groups.

To maintain our mental well-being in the world of social media, it is crucial to establish boundaries. Allocating specific times for social media use and resisting the temptation to compare ourselves to others can be helpful. Engaging in activities that promote self-care and nurturing real-life relationships outside of the virtual sphere is equally important.

The authors are 200-level students of Mass Communication at Delta State University, Abraka, Nigeria.

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