The paradox of social media being good for your mental health

There is a way TikTok and other digital platforms can champion well-being and bring people together

TikTok chef Abir El Saghir poses with her TikTok trophy in Jeb Jennin, west Bekaa, Lebanon, on June 30. Reuters
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With the presence of digital technologies in our lives, moving slowly and mindfully can be a challenge. This is not because technology is in itself negative. But its influence is sophisticated and present in our days to such an extent that it can overshadow other aspects of life.

It is therefore critical that digital platforms prioritise the safety and well-being of users by fostering communities that feel positive and in control of their online experiences.

Indeed, digital platforms today have empowered users to be purveyors of meaningful information, shining a light on movements and innovations before they have gained broader traction or trended. This, in turn, has aided mental health literacy.

But simply raising awareness about mental health stigmas is not enough – digital platforms must take the lead in providing access to information and resources around mental well-being that can normalise the conversation around it and encourage self-acceptance and self-care. TikTok, for example, launched the #EndTheStigma campaign in the Middle East – with a host of in-app activations, the hashtag is utilised to engage with mental health topics, raise awareness of common struggles and create communities of support. The campaign aims to bring the community together to ensure that everyone has the resources they need to support their mental well-being.

Digital platforms can normalise conversations about mental well-being and thereby help users forge mental and digital resilience

Such efforts come at a critical time for mental health awareness and well-being. According to the latest Mena Mental Health Day survey conducted by YouGov in partnership with TikTok, 59 per cent of Gen Z respondents (18 to 24 years of age) said they are afraid of being judged by friends and family if they were open about their mental well-being.

Notably, nearly 59 per cent of the survey respondents also felt fairly comfortable being talked to about mental health by an online community, and millennials were found to be more comfortable with this than members of Gen Z.

As mental health issues continue to pose challenges around the world, digital platforms have the potential to support the global community by normalising vital conversations about mental well-being, thereby helping users forge mental and digital resilience.

They can do this by providing users with tools such as screen time dashboards, daily screen-time limits and breaks, and mental well-being guides that educate and empower them to spend their time online intentionally. In addition, the ability to select, turn off or filter content endows users with agency.

For instance, while digital platforms can and do play a positive role among users and foster an environment where people can express themselves creatively on a variety of topics, they also must protect against potentially challenging viewing experiences that may upset some viewers.

One of the most effective ways of doing that is by promoting media literacy – providing users with the tools to access, analyse, evaluate, create and act effectively using all forms of digital communication.

They can also continuously help their communities evolve and improve by providing guides and toolkits. For example, as part of #EndTheStigma, TikTok has partnered with experts to develop toolkits for the community to learn more about ways they can improve their well-being, better support the community, and build a supportive online conversation that boosts mental health and its awareness.

It is equally vital for digital platforms to elevate the voices of advocates and experts within the communities who are dedicated to promoting equal access to mental well-being resources and eliminating stigma and discrimination. Given the global reach of digital platforms, they must continuously support users with data-driven insights, community resources, programmed hashtags and expert and relevant creator content.

In this vein, #EndTheStigma leverages the strength of online communities to host live sessions from mental health advocates, work with creator partners to launch videos that help end the stigma surrounding mental health and provide tutorials highlighting in-app features for digital well-being that users have access to.

More than anything, mindfulness practices significantly help users to make the most of their digital experience as well as encourage them to reflect holistically about how they spend their time online. A study published in the journal Health Education & Behaviour found that routine usage of digital platforms is positively associated with mental health and social wellbeing outcomes. The findings indicate that the way people use digital platforms may be more impactful than the frequency; for mindful users, routine use can be a positive instead of a negative.

Additionally, a 2022 study in Paediatrics and Parenting, published by the Journal of Medical Internet Research, found that digital platforms offer opportunities for personal expression and social support, in turn contributing to positive mental health outcomes among young people. The findings of another study in the journal Health Promotion International support this idea, concluding that digital platforms seem to have the potential to promote positive mental health.

In many ways, digital platforms today are the global ambassadors of health and mental well-being. It is only when digital platforms are truly passionate about ending the stigma that they help forge a community that feels empowered to talk about well-being and raise global awareness about the vital importance of mental health.

Published: November 04, 2022, 7:00 AM
Updated: November 07, 2022, 6:44 AM