Did you know that a whopping 80% of the Australian population use social media? On one hand, this is great news, as more people can connect, be entertained, and get informed at any time, day or night.
On the other hand, social media isn’t all positive. It has its risks, including the potential to increase mental health symptoms because of overuse or online hostility.
So how do we use social media safely, taking what it has to offer, while avoiding the impact it can have on our mental health?
It’s essential to prevent social media from taking focus away from important parts of your life. So consider committing to times and activities where you will be social media-free. For example, plan not to use social media when chatting to your partner, playing with a child, or otherwise socialising in person. This creates a better quality connection with the people you care about.
It’s also worth avoiding social media before sleep or in bed, as this can disrupt your sleep and in turn, affect your mental health.
There are tools that can assist with limiting your social media use. For example, you can use your phone’s setting to turn off social media notifications at work or mealtimes, or put your phone in airplane mode. There are also apps on your devices that can help by letting you know the time you are spending on your device each day and setting up dedicated times or time limits for apps that you use.
Social media allows you to connect anywhere and anytime. This is a huge plus, especially if you are far away from people you care about or have challenges around leaving home.
However, research shows that people who browse or scroll social media passively experience more symptoms of depression than people who are actively posting or engaging with others. So, if you’re using social media to feel connected, less scrolling! Instead, post more, tag people, chat with people you know in the offline world, or get to know some new people online.
What’s more, many people find mental health peers on social media. These are people who have similar mental health experiences. The greater anonymity of social media can help some people speak more freely, allowing them to share and connect with online friends and communities who understand.
Take note of the posts or accounts that bring up negative emotions like fear, guilt, or not being good enough. Consider hiding or unfollowing these accounts. You can also report accounts or ads that you think could be unsafe for you or others.
The accounts you mute could also include the lives of your Facebook friends! On social media people often portray a positive and idealised version of themselves. This can make you feel shame or envy - like you don’t measure up. One study found that our friends’ Facebook posts make us feel worse than other types of Facebook posts.
This is not a suggestion to unfriend people you care about. Instead, you might want to consider hiding or muting people in your network whose idealised image makes you feel more depressed.
It’s time to start creating a social media feed that makes you feel optimistic, confident, and safe. What are your passions, interests and hobbies? Whether you’re interested in learning guitar, activism or DIY projects there will be people to follow who have great advice or help you get inspired.
Social media has some safe and stigma-free spaces for people who live with mental health issues or neurodiversity. This can be a great way to find empowering voices and role models. Just type #mentalhealth #autism or #neurodiverse into your social media platform to get started.
Social media is here to stay, so it’s important to consider how you use it and its impact on your mental health. Just remember to use it in a way that improves your mood and connections. And most importantly, it should enhance your offline world, not replace it.
For online connection that is safe and anonymous, visit the SANE Forums, where counsellors and peer workers are on hand to help and make sure members feel supported.