There have been questions raised recently as to why mental health issues are so prevalent among children and young people these days when awareness and help for things like anxiety disorders has improved so much. It’s an incredibly complex subject and I’m no psychiatrist but I do wonder how much social media is contributing to anxiety and depression in the young.
When I was at school, we had a few bullies who would verbally and sometimes physically intimidate others but, if you just stayed away from the nasty few, the encounters, although traumatic at the time, were few and far between. Now, however, bullies have any number of ways of tormenting their victims because, not only do we have real life to contend with, but almost all of us also have a virtual life. Many people seem to spend half their lives on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc. and it has become the norm for them to become far more open and honest in their virtual existance than they would be in a face to face situation. People will share the most intimate details of their lives with complete strangers; sometimes their hopes but, more often than not, their fears, their worries, the things that make them angry and resentful………in other words the negative things in their life.
Before the advent of social media individuals would discuss their problems with just one or two of their closest friends who would invariably listen attentively and maybe offer some advice or just a hug. Now a single post can attract dozens or even hundreds of responses. With Twitter especially, many of the people who reply will know nothing about you other than what you share online so they may ridicule or they may try to ‘help’ by giving you advice, offering words of support or sharing their own experience. What you then end up with is a timeline which is accusatory, sympathetic and empathetic but which, if any, are of actual benefit to you?
The people who mock or ridicule you will lower your self-esteem even further and make you regret sharing whatever it was that you shared. If you decide to engage with them it will end in one of two ways – they will become increasingly abusive, feeling safe hiding behind the avatar of their virtual self or you will become angry and attempt to hurt them in the way that they’ve hurt you.
Sympathy and words of support can make us feel loved and, in some ways, special. We are all craving love in one form or another so there follows the temptation to try to generate more of those feelings by posting again. If we’re having a bad day, feeling anxious or depressed, and someone sends us a message of love and sympathy it can give us a lift there’s no doubt about that. However, if the way that we attract positive attention is to constantly post negative comments, how long will it be before we are looking for negativity in our lives merely to have something to say that will encourage loving words from others? What we focus on in life determines our mood and our state of mind so, if we are constantly looking for ways to generate sympathy our focus will be on the things that we are lacking.
This can lead to a vicious cycle. People will usually only be sympathetic for so long so, although you may attract new followers who will give you the words of love and support that you crave, the messages will slow down or even stop. You continue to pour your heart out, writing down all the negative things in your life (which will reinforce their significance in your mind) but they don’t attract attention. The only way that you can continue to get those positive vibes is to make your posts more and more negative which means that you will be more and more focused on the things that you see as being wrong in your life.
Empathy is a wonderful quality; to be able to understand and share the feelings of others is a rare and beautiful thing. If you ever meet someone who is truly empathetic you will feel as though you have known them all your life and that you can share anything with them. It can seem like that on social media when you come across someone who seems to understand your problems completely because they have experienced them themselves. However, just because someone wants to share their experiences with you, it doesn’t mean that they are empathetic or that they truly understand what you are going through. Human beings, for the most part, like to talk about themselves and their experiences and those who think about what they want to say next are far more common than those who actually listen to what the other person is saying. Someone with real empathy will listen attentively and with compassion; they won’t launch into their own tirade of misery the second that you have finished recounting yours.
As there are so many stories being shared on social media 24/7 you can always find someone to share your misery with. Whilst this may feel liberating and helpful, what you are actually doing is constantly enforcing your own negative thoughts by writing them down and then having them verified by someone else who is doing exactly the same thing.
If social media was full of positive and life affirming comments and stories of people over-coming adversity I truly believe that we would focus far more on the things that are right in our lives rather than the things that are wrong but, you know what they say, misery loves company! Personally, if that’s true, I think I’d rather walk alone………………