If you are like most millennials and are on some form of a social media platform, it is probably safe to say that you have contemplated deleting one or two from your phone because social media is not the feel-good experience you hoped for. And its addictive aspects are not a joke. In fact, there is a plethora of research that has found direct impacts on body image, eating habits and overall mental health. When we scroll through our social media feeds we consume heavily sanitized and filtered versions of “reality” that make us feel uncomfortable with our own. In fact, a recent study shows that social media has exacerbated the existing increase in suicide rates of teenage girls in the Unites States (girls tend to use social media more than teenage boys). At the end of the day, it is hard see any positive implications of checking one’s Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat accounts multiple times an hour.
And Instagram is doing something about it. Last year, Instagram rolled out a reporting tool for users who can report posts that show that a friend is in a serious situation. Once you report a friend’s post, they get a notification that says, “Someone saw one of your posts and thinks you might be going through a difficult time. If you need support, we’d like to help.” Your friend is then directed to a helpline, created by mental health experts and groups like the National Eating Disorders Association and The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline that can guide them through the next steps.
Earlier this month, to kick off May’s Mental Health Awareness Month, Instagram addressed the problem of social media and mental health in a creative way. Kevin Systrom, CEO and founder, announced a new mental health awareness campaign, #HereForYou, in a blog post. By using the hashtag (and several other targeted hashtags), users are redirected to a supportive community of Instagrammers who are honest about their battles with mental illness. Systrom’s blog includes a video featuring three Instagrammers who found comfort and support in the Instagram community created by the #HereForYou campaign, as they faced their personal battles.
We are suddenly seeing a shift in which social media may be the very thing that helps save many lives. Someone who may not have the ability to help themselves can now tap into a larger community of people who understand them like no one else does and can empathize with their situation. Instagram is taking a proactive approach in providing a supportive community to those who initially thought that they are forced to fight their battles alone.
Through such initiatives, Instagram users are encouraged to be brave enough to abandon filters and be honest about the moment they are capturing, which can help others suffering from mental illness.
The #HereForYou campaign already has over 70,000 posts on Instagram. Facing the reality that people are bound to become only more dependent on social media, Instagram’s campaign is a step in the right direction. Hopefully, other platforms will follow Instagram’s lead and social media can become a partner in mental health, as opposed to a contributor to mental illness.