Mental health and social networks – how do they fit together?

A post here, a like there – social networks are no longer a trend but part of normality. Many people can hardly imagine a life without Instagram, Facebook or Twitter. But how does this permanent observation of other people’s lives affect the psyche?

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What is World Mental Health Day?

World Mental Health Day (10 October) was celebrated in 1992 on the initiative of the World Federation for Mental Health (WFMH ) to highlight the importance of mental health and the growing number of people with mental health problems. On this day, in more than 150 countries, people affected and experts in various ways try to draw attention to mental illness and its major impact on people’s lives worldwide.

Nowadays, the focus of Mental Health Day is not only on the increasing stress but also on the many changes in life due to digitalization. In addition, the psyche of young people, which is often particularly strained by digital change, is also at stake. Social media and their effects are also and especially under observation of psychology.

Depression: How to recognize the first warning signs World Mental Health Day Healthy social media use always requires a healthy social life outside the Internet. © ImYanis / Shutterstock.com

How can the use of social networks have negative effects on the psyche?

The interaction of mental illness and the use of social networks has long been discussed. Studies show that intensive viewing of Facebook posts or Instagram pictures of beautiful and happy people is counterproductive for the constitution when people are in a depressive phase.

This reinforces the feeling of “Everyone is super and happy, except me.” Psychologists warn of the pull of these media and advise people to stay away from the colorful network world and look after themselves when they have acute psychological problems.

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Psychotherapist Lena Kuhlmann says: “Contacts on social media can never completely replace real encounters: laughing together, eye contact, hugs and touches, swinging together – all this is important for the psyche”. Healthy social media use therefore always requires a healthy social life outside the Internet and the necessary distance from what is seen in the social channels.

“Otherwise, for example, there can be a distortion of perception if we spend too long and too often on these platforms,” says Kuhlmann. “There, people usually present themselves in the best light, images are edited, and not all users are able to differentiate to the extent that they are not dealing with everyday life, but with excerpts and stagings”.

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In addition, the psychotherapist warns against content that can have a disturbing effect: “Although these articles are usually provided with a warning by their authors, no one is really protected by this. If such an article appears in her own chronicle, it can leave its mark on the viewer.

“I, too, have seen pictures of incised wounds or read texts that pull down There is the possibility to report them, but unfortunately they have already been published and can only be deleted afterwards”. In the time until they are deleted, everyone can see these posts.

World Mental Health Day What helps is a communicative approach, exchange with like-minded people and a time limit on social media activities. © Lightfield Studios / Shutterstock.com

It sounds hard, but it’s true: On the Internet, everyone is on their own at first. This always holds dangers for psychologically vulnerable people. “Anonymity on the Internet lowers inhibitions,” says Lena Kuhlmann. “When writing hurtful comments, many forget that behind every post there is a real person.

In some cases, and this is particularly worrying, there are groups that influence each other in a dangerous way.” As an example, she cites the “Blue Whale Challenge”, which in 2016/17 asked its participants to complete 50 tasks and ultimately take their own lives.

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How can social networks be used for mental health problems?

Besides scary news, there are also quite different experiences. There is a friendly, supportive side to the social network that justifies its name: On the one hand, there are the many thousands of people who exchange experiences with other people affected by depression and anxiety in Facebook groups on the subject of depression and anxiety, which provide mutual support and encouragement.

Other sufferers report daily to hundreds of thousands of followers via their Insta-Feed about how they have freed themselves from depression, for example, and encourage those who are ill not to give up, to seek help, to move on. They create a public awareness of this topic and help to ensure that it does not get lost in the beautiful glittering world of the net.

World Mental Health Day In many social networks people with mental health problems create awareness for this topic with inspiring posts. © ImYanis / Shutterstock.com

“These platforms give those affected the opportunity to find like-minded people from all over the world, to exchange ideas with each other, or to influence each other in a positive way”, says therapist and book author Kuhlmann (“Psyche? Everyone has it!”, Eden Books, approx. 17 Euros). “There are some great challenges, exercises or theme weeks for this. That is quite motivating and a nice sense of community.

In addition, there are tips on mindfulness, literature and film recommendations or courageous sayings – there is something for everyone.

The therapist even uses the social networks herself for educational work. “There are still many prejudices around the psyche. I can reach many people relatively easily through Instagram and Facebook.” She also experiences how being on the move in the networks helps those affected: “Some users here share their feelings and thoughts in an artistic way in pictures and text. This can be relieving and helpful for other affected people.”

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What do psychologists advise on the use of Facebook, Instagram and Co.

Some experts warn against the use of social networks in times of mental stress and when there is a previous strain, for example due to depression. Ultimately, it is always a question of which individual uses which networks in which way in which situation. There is no such thing as “only good” and “only bad”.

Rather, the question arises: Is it just lonely, passive consumption – or is it active, communicative, mindful behavior? The latter also includes going offline in moments of greater stress and taking care of yourself, your own life and not that of others.

World Mental Health Day Some users share their thoughts here in an artistic way. This can be relieving and helpful for other people concerned. © ImYanis / Shutterstock.com

Lena Kuhlmann says about dealing with social networks: “It is difficult to give general advice on something because we are all different and mental illnesses can always have different effects on individuals. Perhaps the first step is to observe ourselves and what is good for us, and to take care of it. For this, one’s own attentiveness and discipline are important, but there are also helpers in the digital world.

Kuhlmann: “Apps that track our online activities can be helpful, this gives us a better feeling for our own media use.

Instagram plans to incorporate this self-monitoring capability as an integrated function. The operators of the major networks are also otherwise aware of the potential problems and are trying to ensure, by means of numerous offers of help, that “the time that people spend on social networks is conscious, positive and inspiring,” according to a message from the Facebook group.

For sensitive topics there are, for example, tips on self-help, contact with the telephone counselling service and the possibility of contacting friends. Counterproductive contributions, such as calls for self-injury, are removed by the operators when they are reported.

Ultimately, however, it is above all the users who must find the ideal form of use for themselves. “In the end, it is always a matter of finding a balance for all of us and also living the other areas of life,” says Lena Kuhlmann, “I like to remind you of the many roles we have, for example: Youtuberin, work colleague, mother, sportswoman. It’s never good to live out just one area – after all, a good businesswoman always invests in several projects.