With nearly one billion users, Instagram is one of the biggest social media platforms around. A free, easy to use app that allows people to share photographs and videos on their feed with followers, collecting likes and comments as a way to interact.
On the surface, it can seem like a great way to engage with friends and celebrities alike. But is Instagram really that good for us?
A poll commissioned by The Royal Society for Public Health asked almost 1,500 young people aged 14-24 to rate social media apps on a wide range of mental health categories. Instagram was ranked the worst for wellbeing and mental health, out of all the social media apps, including Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. According to the survey, Instagram can contribute to anxiety, depression, loneliness and self-esteem issues.
But why does Instagram cause these issues? Firstly, social media has become somewhat of a measuring stick – a way to compare yourself to others, when really we’re not seeing the full reality. In short, everyone is sharing their highs, but no one’s sharing their lows. And really, no one has an airbrushed, incredibly happy and amazing life 100% of the time. That’s just not realistic.
Do we need to share the lows as well as the highs?
It’s not just the fact that we can all feel like we don’t have the perfect body, or career, or social life, it’s that that these means of self-comparison are available 24/7. In the past, it used to be a comparison of ourselves against the glamour of models in magazines, but now it’s the envy of our friends, who really think they are “just like us”, but somehow seem to be doing better and having more fun. Do I really need to know what my friends are doing every second of every day? With the rates of anxiety and depression rising to over 70% in young people in the last 25 years, we have to ask ourselves: do we really need social media, and if so, at what cost?
Luckily, it’s not all bad. Instagram can be a great way to market yourself, a brilliant way to build your brand, and a way to connect with those around you. It can be a support system, somewhere to find your people, and a way to learn more about the world you want to live in. These days I’ve become better at realising what’s truly good and bad behaviour for me, and even so, I’ve realised that I’m not quite ready to give up Instagram for good. It can be a fantastic tool, and a great way to connect with people you love. But now I stop and think, “am I doing this because I love myself, or because I don’t?” And why am I trying to portray this perfect life, when actually I have anything but? I now know that feelings like sadness and self-doubt aren’t necessarily problems to be solved, but instead problems to be managed. The waves never get smaller, we just get better at choosing which ones to surf. And sometimes the greatest thing you can do is just to know when to log off.
Can we really measure happiness online?
Other people’s lives are now more accessible than ever, and it can feel impossible to feel like enough when you’re spending your life on social media. Noticing this allowed me to take a step back, and truly evaluate what I wanted from Instagram – a place to connect with my friends; to share moments that move me; to see what my favourite athletes, bands and actors are doing; and to acknowledge that their lives aren’t actually the fantasy we perceive.
Perhaps the most important thing I’ve learnt is to not compare your behind the scenes moments to everyone else’s highlight reels. You’re doing great as it is.
by Julia Cook