One should use the camera as though tomorrow he would be stricken blind. Then the camera becomes a beautiful instrument for the purpose of saying to the world in general: ‘This is the way it is. Look at it, look at it.’ -Dorthea Lange
I’m in the research phase of a campaign aimed at lowering mental health stigma on campus. One of the challenges is figuring out the most effective way to spread messages on social media. While conducting an interview this week, I got a response that I didn’t expect:
“How likely would you be to share this photo or a photo like this on social media?”
“Pretty unlikely. Considering I don’t use social media.”
My friend went on to explain why they weren’t a fan of social media. Social media, they say, often gives more attention to “news” that doesn’t matter instead of real stories and issues (#TheDress). It also acts as a highlights reel, showing only the “Instagramable” parts of life, and not the more realistic, ugly parts. This, they said, is bad for mental health.
Mental health- that’s why I’m researching. They had my attention.
It seems that spending a lot of time on social media can lead to increased feelings of loneliness and depression. Enough time spent on social media can take away from time that would be spent with others, creating more loneliness. Pictures can create the illusion that everyone else’s lives are better than your own.
In a 2012 survey by Anxiety UK, 53% of participants reported that using social media changed their behavior, and 51% said that change was negative, that comparison to friends led to feelings of inadequacy.
Seeing only the beautiful, edited images that people want others to see can feed into the lie that their lives are perfect and easy when this isn’t necessarily the case.
I began writing in hopes of pointing out that I do this too. I planned to go back to an ugly time in my iPhone album to show you a real life picture beside the pretty one I chose to Instagram on the same day. But I realized that I didn’t really have the pictures that Dorthea Lange talked about. The “this is the way it is pictures” weren’t taken, much less shared.
I don’t think that social media is the best way to communicate about personal problems. But when problems do exist, it’s important to remind ourselves, and remind others, that we’re usually seeing the highlights reel.