How Social Media Affects Your Mental Health (guest post)

How Social Media Affects Your Mental Health

Guest Post by Daniela McVicker

socialmedia

We live in a time where social media has taken over our everyday lives.  Both older and younger generations constantly use their  phones to communicate with friends and family, as well as entertain themselves — and social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter are playing a very important role in all of these actions.

While social media can help connect people, improve information sharing, and provide hours of entertainment, there are also many negative aspects connected with their usage.  Famous people can promote unhealthy standards which an average person would never be able to achieve and sustain.  Taking this into consideration, here are some of the ways in which social media can affect your mental health.

It Can Promote Interaction and Create Friendships.

For people who are lonely, the internet can provide them with a social circle they most likely don’t have in real life.  As social media is concentrated around accounts which promote certain types of content, it is a lot easier to find other people with similar likes and interests.

Coming in contact with people who share your interests can help you feel more confident about your choices and help improve your mood.   Talking about things you enjoy and learning  interesting things from people with similar tastes will certainly help your mental state improve. 

While the internet can limit face-to-face contacts between people, it can help those who are lonely feel like they belong and help them have someone to talk to when they need it. While many online friendships and relationships don’t allow people to meet in real life, it is still a great opportunity for human interaction for people who are shy, ill, or home-bound.

It Can Also Make Users Feel Isolated.

At the same time though, no matter how many friends someone has online, they cannot really replace the experience of having real-life friends to spend time with. Online friendship is limited by the distance the screens create between the users, and even though you can Skype and call the other person easily, you are still not actually spending physical time together.

This can make a social media user feel isolated and even feel like they’re not worthy of having real-life friends. The reality is that for most people, opening up to a stranger online is much easier than striking up a conversation with someone in an everyday life scenario.

A good way to view online friendships is as an opportunity for improving your social skills and finding new ways to strike up a conversation with people who have similar interests to you in everyday life.   Since you won’t have the pressure of replying to the other person immediately, you will be able to teach yourself how to pick your words better and be more social in an easier way. This will definitely help boost your mental health.

 It Can Make Users Compare Themselves to Unrealistic Images.

Another reason why social media can affect a person’s mental health is that almost every platform tends to support and promote unrealistic images of perfection.   Social media influencers have become very popular in our day and time and are loved, supported and followed by millions of users.

Platforms such as Instagram tend to present users with social media influencers who always look perfect, use the most expensive beauty and clothing items, and appear to just be living a dream life. The reality is that their lives are not as perfect as they appear to be online.

For example, most of the pictures people post on social media have been retouched or altered so that the users hide their own imperfections from the world.   Or they only post their very best pictures or the ones that make it look as if their lives are perfect:  perfect family,  lots of friends, always looking perfect, etc.   For younger generations that have not yet come to terms with the fact that what they see online may not be what the person is really like or what their life is really like,  this can have devastating consequences on their self image.

This can affect their mental health negatively by making them obsessed with chasing an image that does not really reflect reality. Working towards self-improvement is a great thing, but setting achievable and realistic goals is most important for one’s mental and physical well-being.

It Can Provide a Source of Support in Difficult Situations

Have you ever wondered if there are other people out there that might be going through a similar situation as you? Whether that has to do with a chronic illness, a relationship issue, or anything else that you might think of, the internet is bound to provide you with a forum on social media platforms targeted toward people who struggle with the same issue you do.

A great example is a Facebook group for people who want to support each other and get support on their weight loss journeys. Not only are they great sources of education for the people struggling with losing weight, but they also provide the participants with a social circle which will always be there to support them and help them keep moving on their weight loss journeys.

No matter what the issue, being part of a supportive online community can help the person improve themselves while also improving their mental health. Finding people who go through the same problems as you is very difficult or even impossible in day-to-day life, so the online support group can give them the motivation they need to feel better and start improving themselves and the way they view the world around them.

The Bad and the Good of Social Media Platforms.

While social media platforms tend to promote unrealistic images and set high expectations for their users, they can also offer a plethora of benefits. There are many people out there who are lonely or isolated and can benefit greatly from feeling like they are part of a group and have some online friends they can talk to when things are rough.

Social media platforms can affect users’ mental health both positively and negatively but in most cases, this effect is related to the personality of the user as well as the way they use their social media accounts.

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Daniela McVicker is an editor for Topwritersreview. She is also an experienced writer with a degree in social psychology from Durham University. Daniela is primarily focused on writing about self-improvement. She has authored a number of insightful and motivating articles like “Making The Right Choices Every Day” and “7 Steps To Open Yourself To New Opportunities & Possibilities”.

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When bloggers just disappear.

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One thing about the cyber-world that bugs me is its unstable, temporary nature.  You can get really close to someone online and feel like you’ve been best friends for years, but because you don’t really know anything about them (their real name, where they live, what their favorite color is, etc.), if they suddenly take down their blog or just stop posting anything in it, there’s no way to find out what happened to them. Did they die? Are they in jail? Sick? Hard drive attacked by a virus?  Abducted by aliens?  Just don’t want to blog anymore?

There’s no way to ever find out, and it sucks because you’ve grown to care so much about the soul behind the words, even if you couldn’t recognize them if they were walking down the street. This goes for frequent commenters too, who are very active for awhile and then suddenly vanish. Only in that case, you also wonder if they might have grown bored with your blog or if you said something that pissed them off.

I love the Internet.

oh_internet

The Internet is a wonderful and terrible thing. It opens doors and slams them shut. It builds up and destroys. It educates and dumbs down. It lies and tells the truth. It’s a balance of dark and light, good and evil, alpha and omega. Cyberspace is a parallel universe that opens up when you touch your keyboard.

The Internet is a free-for-all. Anything can happen. It’s always evolving, always changing…for better or worse, you never know. And it’s still mostly free.

Oh, and there’s plenty of cats too.

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I always thought of the Internet as comparable to being set loose in New York City during its most dangerous and exciting years–the 1970s and 1980s. You never knew what you would see, what sort of wonderful or terrible things could happen. It was a glorious chaos during that time. I know, I lived there then.

I hope the Internet is never “cleaned up” the way New York City was during the 1990s. I don’t want a Disneyland Internet.

The dumbing down of the Internet

google
Even Bart Simpson knows what’s going on.

Up until 9/11 and its aftermath, and especially since the twin-monster births of Facebook and Twitter (and their older retarded brother MySpace), the Internet was like being set loose in New York City during the 1970s and 1980s or Paris during the 1920s and 1930s.

Ever since Facebook, Twitter and other major corporate-run websites came along and steamrolled the entire web, visiting the Internet is more like taking tours of the world’s most depressing slums with weekends spent in Disneyland.

My brilliant friends also have Aspergers

Gale Molinari http://www.galesmind.com just wrote an amazing article about her Aspie friends, where she points out the ways Aspergers has made these two women even better friends to her than they might otherwise be.

It’s so wonderful to see someone write about the positive aspects of Aspergers and how this “mental disorder” gives its “victims” a depth and understanding and focus neurotypicals do not have.

There is a growing community of people with Aspergers who have started an “Aspie rights” movement who’s aim is to get Aspergers removed from the DSM and psychiatric and medical literature as a mental illness and also lobbies for it to stop being considered a handicap, disability, or even a form of mental retardation (which its more severe forms are often confused with). Aspies are not retarded. They also lobby for a more Aspie-friendly world, where for instance, instead of a face to face interview for a job, another kind of application system, such as a Instant Message interview or a written essay can better serve an Aspie applicant and show a potential employer their true talents.

Many if not most Aspies have brilliant minds and high intellectual capacity but can do little or even nothing with their minds because in order to get ahead in the western world (things apparently are easier for Aspies in places like Japan, which doesn’t rely on social gregariousness and aggression), a person must have great social skills and the ability to “think on their feet,” “network” and “schmooze” with higher ups–and always know the right thing to say at the right time.

Aspies have difficulty doing these things, and can come off as awkward, weird, lacking affect, painfully shy, lacking empathy (see my rant about THAT!), or even “slow,” so they are often overlooked for promotions or higher level work. Many people assume because they don’t communicate well verbally and sometimes seem lost in their own world, that they are stupid. But that is just one big fat lie.

Even low functioning people with autism –the ones who have to be institutionalized and cannot care for themselves (and are what most people still think of when they think of autism)–are probably extremely intelligent–but have focused ALL their attention and thinking on ONE OR TWO THINGS. They may be focusing so intensely on their topic of fascination and encyclopedic knowledge (the so-called “idiot savant” phenomenon) to the point they literally are not living in the physical world and must be cared for by others.

Higher functioning people with autism (Aspies) still tend to focus intensely on things and can become obsessed (to a point neurotypicals find weird or unhealthy) with whatever fascinates them. They hate to be interrupted by outside things or people when mentally engaged in their interests or hobbies. But since their autism is much less severe, they can still attend to the outside world if they must. But they aren’t very good at it and prefer not to.

Most Aspies were also bullied as children due to their differences and lack of ability to socialize the way others do (and their high sensitivity), and may have been bullied by their own families (especially if, as I did, they had one or more narcissistic parents or siblings) and frequent bullying can destroy any self esteem a child with Aspergers may have, making things even harder for them when they try to get a foothold in the professional world as adults. Studies have shown that high self confidence is a far better indicator of adult success in life than high intelligence is. Ever wonder why your boss is stupider than you are? Maybe he just likes himself more than you like yourself. This is why narcissists (except the needy type, who thrive on pity and handouts) usually do so well in the working world (though they fail miserably on the relationship/family front).

But I digress.

Some of the most brilliant people in history have had Aspergers (Einstein himself) and were thought to be unintelligent as children because of their slowness in learning social skills. Einstein didn’t talk until he was 3 and his teachers thought he was retarded. Anyway, my point is, because of the Internet (on which Aspies thrive–more so than in the physical world; see my article “Aspies Rule the Internet”), Aspergers is slowly losing its status as a mental illness and being recognized as a variation, much like LGBT was considered a mental illness as recently as 1973, but now hardly anyone thinks of it that way anymore, even people who are opposed to it.

Read on!

galesmind

Aspergers girl

Aspergers another form of autism is not well understood. Because people with Aspergers can have trouble communicating they can be assumed to be unintelligent and strange. The exact opposite is true. Because of social media I have had the pleasure of meeting two wonderfully talented women that also happen to have Aspergers. One on Word Press who has been a mentor and great supporter, the other a fabulously talented kind young lady on Facebook. Because of the nature of social media they can be more comfortable and are really able to portray themselves as they truly are without the shadow of preconceived ideas.
asperger bullies
Some of these ideas are hateful, harmful and untrue and also damaging to the psyche.

http://aspergerstest.net/aspergers-in-adults/

Here is a website among many explaining Aspergers syndrome. While Aspies (as they refer to themselves) may have challenges they also excel in other things that take intense concentration and dedication…

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When my worlds collide.

Worlds_Collide___Phaeton___by_Meckie
Worlds Collide-Phaeton: by Meckie at Deviantart.com

I have lived in several different online worlds at different times of my life, each as remote from each other as the Milky Way is from The Great Magellanic Cloud. They may even inhabit different cyber-universes. But on Facebook, these universes have a disturbing and slightly eerie way of all melding together into a single, writhing, freaky ass clusterf*ck.

I recently became somewhat active on Facebook again, even though I really can’t stand it. This happened because I decided to start linking my blog posts there (it does help visibility), and, well, you start poking around looking at stuff and before you know it, you’re updating your status and talking to people who want to comment about your updates.

One thing that always happens that drives me insane, but is really sort of cool when you think about it, is when people from different areas of my life start conversing because they’re both my Facebook friends and they both wind up commenting about something I posted.

My friend Kevin, from a political/history forum I used to be active on (the site has become pretty much overrun by trolls but has a FB page now) got into a heated debate with another friend of mine I just met because she’s active on Sam Vaknin’s page. They got into a discussion over the religious implications of malignant narcissism and whether or not Vaknin would be saved by the Holy Spirit. It was an interesting if somewhat strange conversation. I got a kind of odd thrill from seeing two people from completely different compartments/timeframes of my online life get to know each other on my wall.

Okay, I admit it. It’s cool as hell.

I always wondered about the freakiness of my worlds colliding. When different areas of my life–or different times–somehow “meet” it’s very freaky. They don’t belong together.

This reminds me of when I was about 4. I was in the grocery store with my mother, and suddenly a woman appeared with a cart of groceries and started speaking to my mom…she was MY TEACHER and I started crying because it scared me because THE GROCERY STORE was where you bought GROCERIES and the TEACHER BELONGED IN SCHOOL so what in the name of all that is holy was my teacher doing in the GROCERY STORE?
It’s a little like that, but not scary or upsetting, because I’m not 4…..but its still weird.

That’s one of the reasons why Facebook scares me. It makes me wary and inhibited about posting ir some things or sharing certain blog posts there. There’s some topics I like to keep separate from people who inhabit one of my other universes. Why that is, I can’t explain. I don’t know myself well enough to explain why I have this strange neurosis about my worlds touching. Is this some bizarro world cyberspace version of a kid who freaks out because the gravy on their plate is touching their peas?

mixing_them

Most disturbing (but really just more annoying) of all is constantly seeing updates from old coworkers I lost contact with years ago and having friends I don’t recognize because I can’t remember why I added them or where I knew them from. Also many members of my FOO post on FB too but I have quietly defriended most of them. I HATE mixing my IRL life with my online one.

Aspies rule the Internet!

aspie_quote

My fellow ACON blogger Fivehundredpoundpeep, posted this the other day.

From the girl with curly hair…
Aspies are knowledge junkies. We can become Internet addicts because the Internet is like crack for us. I study many things for the fun of it. You all see what I write on this blog but this week, I read about True Crimes in my state, Indian nations in America and Outsider Art.

There was never anything truer than this. In my many years of prowling and posting on the Internet, Aspies do seem more numerous than they do IRL. On a forum I used to be active on, Aspies seemed almost proud to say they were Aspie, as if it’s an advantage on the Internet instead of a liability. But guess what. It just may be!

We do tend to become obsessed with one or two topics at a time and focus intensely on them to the point others sometimes think we are weird (the extreme form of this is the idiot savant phenomenon seen in low functioning people with autism). That’s why I blog! Because if I just talked about the stuff I talk about here IRL as much as I do on my blog, people would be backing away slowly and locking their doors and windows against the crazy woman on the loose.

We read a lot and gain a very deep knowledge of what interests us. We read anything we can about our obsessions until we’re sated or the next obsession takes over. We have good memories and retain new information well. These traits can give us some credibility in whatever topic we focus on in our blogs. I think that’s a good thing. Our obsessing over topics and spending so much time researching and reading about the minutiae of that focused interest may seem strange to neurotypicals, but it’s hurting no one, so why is it a problem?

The Internet is the perfect modality for most people with Aspergers. It allows us to have a platform to talk about our obsessions instead of having to engage in shallow conversation or small talk (which I hate and am very bad at). It even allows us to start a conversation about our pet topic and the metaphysical, meaningful aspects of that topic. People can think we are weird or insane, but we don’t have to deal with those judgmental NT’s face to face. There are plenty more people online who actually like what we have to say and listen to us.

We also have time to think about and refine what we want to say. We’re not required to “think on our feet,” something which is very difficult for Aspies. We don’t have to have a witty comeback for a joke or know exactly the right or appropriate thing to say when confronted by something.

Because our problem isn’t really that we lack social skills. I think for most of us, the problem is that we need time to process an interaction, and you can’t do that in real life social situations. Writing is just as valid a form of social interaction as speaking, and it’s a modality most of us are much better at and even find we can excell at.

The Internet can make us feel more confident. It’s the one thing Aspies have going in their favor that we never had prior to the late 1990s. There’s also more general knowledge about Aspergers and it’s now acknowledged even adults can suffer from it. In the past, Aspergers wasn’t even recognized as a high functioning form of autism. We were just the geeks and dorks and socially awkward outcasts and obsessive crazies of the world. When people used to think of autism, they thought of people so impaired and disconnected from the world they had to live in institutions and have all their needs met by caregivers. They didn’t think of socially awkward geeks and obsessives like me.

Now they do, and it’s because the Internet has given us Aspies a place to talk, to meet others like ourselves, to make friends, to vent and rant, and to protest against the prejudices neurotypicals have against us. We are really more a minority group like LGBT than we are “mentally ill.” (Homosexuality used to be considered a mental illness too–it was finally removed from the DSM in 1973).

The Aspie rights movement thinks of Aspieness as a variation rather than a disorder. We’re only “disabled” because our society isn’t set up to be adaptive to our needs. We are forced to adapt to theirs, and it ain’t easy! The Internet gives us a voice.

The chatterbox and the hermit.

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“Shy and Outgoing” by Cammy Senpai, Deviantart

I’m two different people.

Most of you already know what I’m like online. I made a vow to be completely honest and hold back nothing (within reason) and so I am doing. This has been a wonderful thing for me because it has given me courage (and takes courage!)

But I’ve always been outgoing online. I talk about the things that concern me, my feelings about them, my relationships, my mostly painful and sordid past. I tell you if I’m happy, sad or mad and I tell you why. I actively seek out friendships and post on other people’s blogs (when I can find the time since I’m always on this blog). I’ve become active on social media too, something I never thought I’d be. If anything, I’m probably a little too confessional!
On the web, I’m comfortable being completely myself and do not suffer from the shyness, shame or self-consciousness that plagues me IRL.

In the real world (which I prefer to call the physical world, because online life is every bit as real as any other form of interaction), I’m the opposite of the above. I suffer from both Aspergers (which I was most likely born with) and Avoidant Personality Disorder, brought on by abuse and always feeling off balance because of my MN mother and my enabling, alcoholic father, not to mention being a frequent target for school bullies.

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From “What’s In It For Me?” on Zombie Shuffle’s blog.

In the physical world, I’m a very different person than the one you know online. Although I have the same emotions (which I talk about here), I don’t discuss them openly or even at all. I have few friends, am not close with anyone in my family other than my children, and prefer the company of myself, my books, or my pets to that of other people. Lots of noise and large groups of chattering people are very triggering to me, and I find myself tensing up and retreating if possible.

Most people know very little about me. I don’t say much, I rarely initiate conversation, and am very shy. Some people think I am cold and aloof; others think I am just stupid. I’m neither, but my avoidant personality makes me seem unfriendly or insecure. My Aspergers makes me seem awkward which exacerbates my problems relating to people.

I am terrified of intimacy and romantic relationships. After a long, abusive marriage and 7 more years of hell living with him after we divorced, I think I’ve had enough. I don’t trust men enough or trust my own judgment enough to dare take the plunge again into a new relationship. I also feel like my age is a problem, even though I look far younger than I am. I haven’t had sex in 9 years and really, that’s not a problem for me. I like the idea of having a relationship again (who really wants to die alone?), but I don’t know if I could cope with the reality of one. That doesn’t mean it won’t ever happen though. It just scares the living daylights out of me.

I can’t stand talking on the phone and a ringing phone is very triggering for me: I always expect to hear bad news. I know it’s just my hypervigilance, but I can’t help my reaction whenever the phone rings. As far as talking on the phone, it’s just awkward because I can’t pick up nuances in speech (due to my Aspergers) which is made worse by the fact I can’t see their facial expressions or body language. I try to end phone conversations as quickly as possible, which makes people think I’m unfriendly or don’t want to talk to them.

I don’t connect well IRL with most people, although I do get along with most. I’m not hard to get along with, just hard to get to know.

Blogging has enabled me to open up and be the self I want to be. It’s enhanced my self esteem and my creativity. Being courageous enough to post the sort of things I post gives me even more courage. Journaling online to complete strangers has helped me understand a lot of things I never used to understand and it’s even helping me develop more empathy.

But this isn’t the Matrix and I can’t live inside my online world all the time. I do think, however, that my increased self esteem and self awareness will soon translate into my relations with the real world. In fact, I’ve been told I seem more relaxed, happier, and more confident than I used to be, even though my extreme reservedness remains. I smile and laugh more. Most people do seem to like me, even though they can’t get to know me well. They have no idea the shy, mysterious, taciturn woman who tends to clam up in social situations or avoid them altogether actually runs a blog where she talks about the most personal issues it’s possible to talk about.

A vast wasteland.

Wasteland-03-Digital-Illustration-by-Atelier-Olschinsky
Wasteland 03 by Atelier Olschinsky

I remember when forums were a thing. So much has changed in the past 5-10 years, with the proliferation of social media and the enormous popularity of Big Brother Facebook, which started its unholy takeover of the Internet in 2008. Twitter is getting almost as bad.

Forums still exist, but most of them are dead or dying. The last one I posted on was about a year ago. It was a political/history related forum that had been in existence since 1997. I started posting there in 1999, and was on-again, off-again for the next 13 years. That forum (as far as I know) is still in existence, but when its only moderator left and was never replaced, the site was overtaken by trolls who proceeded to destroy the site by running off its regular members. Last time I was there, it was a shell of what it once was. There were about 3 intelligent people still posting there. I had to leave; it had become mind numbingly boring and too sad to stick around.

Another forum I used to be active on has about a tenth of the activity it once did. All you can hear is the crickets there now.

I see this sort of thing happening all over the web. The Internet is littered with dead and dying forums. They’re a thing of the past, really a relic of the last century, when the Internet was still new and social media was still just someone’s bright idea. They remained popular during the first decade of this century, but seemed to start their decline in about 2007-8, when Facebook made its debut. As content management systems became easier for the average person to use, blogging gained popularity too. Blogs are probably as numerous (if not more numerous) than forums were 8-10 years ago.

I always liked forums because of the way they were organized by topic, but they did have their problems. Blogging is more appealing and much more creative and rewarding for a writer than posting on forums is. You don’t have to worry about going against the status quo because you have an “unpopular opinion.” You don’t have to censor your language (although I try to use decorum). You don’t really have to worry about bullies ganging up on you or trolls invading or hacking into your site. Moderators weren’t always your friend either; sometimes they even sided with the bullies.

The Internet is a mess with the debris of dead forums, but there’s also a wealth of information on them if you look. It’s fascinating to read a decade-old thread about a topic that interests you, and you might find out some things you never would have known otherwise. Reading old forums is like reading the memoir of someone who has passed on. You can learn so much. It’s incredible how fast history moves on the web.

Remember this sound?

Dial-up Internet. Free AOL CD-Roms that came by snail mail and everyone threw away. Remember how slow and inefficient the Internet was? There was no Youtube, no Facebook, no Twitter, barely any photos. Remember when Telnet chatrooms (“talkers”) served the same purpose that Twitter and texting do today? When Email was cool and cutting edge–and Hotmail was the coolest of all? Remember Mosaic and Netscape?

Those days weren’t so long ago. But in the digital universe, it was eons ago. How far we have come since those prehistoric days. Where will we be in another 20 years?