Some of its users and many mental health professionals would say it's not. In 2017, the Royal Society for Public Health conducted a survey #statusofmind on 1,479 young people from England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland that were 14- to 24-year-old, asking them about the opinion of some of the most known social media platforms, including Instagram. They answered questions about how social media platforms impact on 14 different issues related to their mental or physical health. Out of five social networks included in the survey, YouTube received the highest marks for health and wellbeing and was the only site that received a total positive score by respondents. It got high marks for bringing awareness of other people’s health experiences, for providing access to trustworthy health information and for decreasing respondents’ levels of depression, anxiety, and loneliness. Twitter came in second, followed by Facebook and Snapchat, with Instagram being the last one. Overall, they all received negative marks, especially for sleep quality, bullying, body image and “FOMO”–fear of missing out. For example, seeing friends constantly on holiday or enjoying nights out can make young people feel like they are missing out while others enjoy life. These feelings can promote a “compare and despair” attitude. With the exception of YouTube, other four networks (Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram) were also associated with increases in depression and anxiety.
Instagram scored particularly severely for its effects on body image and mental health as a whole. One of the main reasons is its emphasis on promoting unachievable shiny lifestyles and super fit-skinny bodies that are making people so miserable. As one survey respondent wrote, “Instagram easily makes girls and women feel as if their bodies aren’t good enough as people add filters and edit their pictures in order for them to look ‘perfect’.” With the need to construct that perfection all photo-editing apps similar to Photoshop started to be very popular. We can use filters, correct some little skin mistakes, remove the cellulite and make our eyes look bigger. At the end in front of us is a picture of a person but we don't know him/her anymore. Continuous scrolling without much interaction with other people in the household can lead to a serious impact on our well-being. It also widens the distance between the users and their friends and family in real life. We have to mention that Instagram also got some positive points for self-expression and self-identity because people can be creative, build their community, followers and get emotional support from them.
Personal story of a model:
Belle is a high-profile 26-year-old Australian model with more than 300,000 followers on her Instagram account. Starting her Instagram in 2013, Belle began to grow an online image that she knew did not honestly represent who she was offline. This awareness had huge consequences for her mental health. Her Instagram presence came to focus heavily on wellbeing and on posting healthy meals, workout routines, and photographs of her thin figure. Instagram users positively commented on her photos with "Love your body!" and "You're perfect!". Because of constant pressure and need to be loved and liked she dangerously restricted her diet, maintained workout routines between demanding times for taking Instagram photos and panicked whenever she was offered something unplanned to eat. Offline she felt anxious and lonely. There were a lot of fun evenings with friends passed up, amazing meals replaced for vegetables, and in general, life just passing by. Now she realized that life she lived was not healthy and stopped. She avoids other inspirational Instagram profiles because she is aware of what is happening in the background because she lived that life too.
How to deal with the problem?
Social media isn’t going away soon, nor should it. We must be ready to nurture the innovation that the future holds. Well-being services are already calling out for social media companies to make changes. They recommend them to put a warning sign “heavy usage” within these apps or on their website. That would warn all users of some risks and responsibilities that they are taking by downloading the application. The government can also help by introducing safe social media use in elementary and high schools. It is also important for professionals who work with youth to be trained in digital and social media to know how to deal with it when it comes to cyberbullying, self-esteem and depression problems that will maybe originate from social media platforms. One of the answers is also to encourage young people to lower their daily usage of social platforms, especially after waking up and before sleep time routine. This act would probably significantly diminish the risk of mental health problems.
*To help yourself answer the titles’ question and inform yourself about the subject you can also read my related article on Youth Reporter: Digital minimalism or how to start the attention diet.
New feature from Instagram: no more likes
In May 2019 Instagram began testing a new feature in Canada, Australia, Brazil, Ireland, Italy, Japan, and New Zealand that would hide public like counts on all photo and video posts. As you scroll through your feed, there will be no like counts. You could still see who liked a photo or video if you will go through the list, and if you have the time to count them all up yourself. General point is, you will still be able to see your likes but your followers can’t. The big question on everyone’s minds is: how will this affect Instagram influencers and businesses? Developers and wellbeing professionals think this is a really positive change for the platform. The fact that your “like count” is out of sight means that the focus is on your content, rather than a number, and can allow you to post more freely without being limited what and when to post and not being anxious if your post doesn’t get a lot of likes.
Nevertheless, I think we can apply a lot of new, improved features with no like counts and similar and yet we don't escape the problem of social media addiction. Young people should imply less liking, less posting, and more living in our everyday life.