Is Social Media Hurting Your Mental Health? | Bailey Parnell | TEDxRyersonU

Translator: MARIA TIAKA
Reviewer: Peter van de Ven I'm fat. Wow, I'm fat. She's only nineteen years old,
what am I doing with my life? Hey! Two likes! Nice. Do I like this photo? Does she really need more likes? I hope I'm going to be invited
to the wedding. One more like, nice! Welcome to the internal monologue
of a typical social media scroll. A monologue that so many
of us have every day, but we don't think about it,
we don't talk about it. In fact, many of us
can't even recognize it happening. I'm Bailey Parnell, and I will discuss
the unintended consequences social media is having
on your mental health. I will show you what's
stressing you out every day, what it's doing to you, and how you can craft
a better experience for yourself online.

Just over a year ago, my sister and I took a four-day
vacation to Jasper, Alberta. This was the first no-work vacation
I had taken in four years. On this vacation, I was going dark. I was turning on airplane mode,
no email and no social media. The first day there, I was still experiencing
phantom vibration syndrome. That's where you think
your phone went off, and you check and it didn't. I was checking incessantly. I was distracted in conversation. I was seeing these gorgeous sights
Jasper had to offer, and my first reaction
was to take out my phone and post it on social. But of course it wasn't there. The second day was a little bit easier. You might be thinking I'm ridiculous, but I hadn't been completely
disconnected in over four years. This was practically
a new experience again. It wasn't until the fourth day I was there that I was finally comfortable
without my phone. I was sitting with my sister,
literally on the side of this mountain, when I started thinking to myself: "What is social media doing to me? What is it doing to my peers?" That was only four days,
and it was anxiety-inducing, it was stressful and it
resulted in withdrawals.

That's when I started to ask questions and have since started
my master's research into this subject. I've worked in social marketing
primarily in higher education for most of my career. That means I work
with a lot of 18- to 24-year-olds, which also happens to be the most active demographic
on social media. The other thing you need to know about me is that I'm young enough
to have grown up with social media, but just old enough to be able
to critically engage with it in a way that twelve-year-old me
probably couldn't.

My life is social media: personally,
professionally and academically. If it was doing this to me,
what was it doing to everyone else? I immediately found out I wasn't alone. The center for collegiate mental health
found that the top three diagnoses on University campuses
are anxiety, depression and stress. Numerous studies from the US,
Canada, the UK, you name it, have linked this high social media use with these high levels
of anxiety and depression. But the scary thing
is that high social media use is almost everyone I know: my friends, my family, my colleagues. 90% of 18- to 29-year-olds
are on social media. We spend on average
two hours a day there. We don't even eat for two hours a day. 70% of the Canadian population
is on social media.

Our voter turnout isn't even 70%. Anything we do this often
is worthy of critical observation. Anything we spend this much time doing
has lasting effects on us. So let me introduce you to four of the most common
stressors on social media, that if go unchecked have potential to become
full-blown mental health issues, and this is by no means
an exhaustive list. Number one: the Highlight Reel. Just like in sports, the highlight reel is a collection
of the best and brightest moments. Social media is
our personal highlight reel. It's where we put up our wins,
or when we look great, or when we are out
with friends and family. But we struggle with insecurity because we compare
our behind-the-scenes with everyone else's highlight reels. We are constantly comparing
ourselves to others. Yes, this was happening
before social media, with TV and celebrity, but now it's happening all the time,
and it's directly linked to you. A perfect example I came across
in preparation for this talk is my friend on vacation: 'brb, nap …' (Laughter) 'Wait, why can't I afford a vacation? Why am I just sitting here
in my PJ's watching Netflix? I want to be on a beach.' Here's the thing, I know her very well.

I knew this was
out of the ordinary for her. I knew she was typically
drowning in schoolwork. But we think, 'Who wants to see that?' The highlights are
what people want to see. In fact, when your highlights do well, you encounter the second
stressor on social media. Which is number two: Social Currency. Just like the dollar, a currency
is literally something we use to attribute value to a good or service. In social media, these likes,
the comments, the shares have become this form of social currency
by which we attribute value to something.

In marketing, we call it
the 'Economy of Attention'. Everything is competing
for your attention, and when you give something a like
or a piece of that finite attention, it becomes a recorded transaction
attributing value. Which is great if you
are selling albums or clothing. The problem is that in our social media, [WE are the product.] We are letting others
attribute value to us. You know someone or are someone
that has taken down a photo because it didn't take as many likes
as you thought it would. I'll admit, I've been
right there with you. We took our product off the shelf
because it wasn't selling fast enough. This is changing our sense of identity.

We are tying up our self-worth
of what others think about us and then we are quantifying it
for everyone to see. And we are obsessed. We have to get that selfie just right,
and we will take 300 photos to make sure. Then we will wait
for the perfect time to post. We are so obsessed we have biological responses
when we can't participate. Which leads me to
the third stressor on social media. Number three: F.O.M.O. It's a light phrase
we've all thrown around. F.O.M.O., or the 'fear of missing out',
is an actual social anxiety from the fear that you are missing
a potential connection, event, or opportunity. A collection of Canadian Universities
found that 7/10 students said they would get rid of
their social networking accounts if it were not for fear
of being left 'out of the loop'.

Out of curiosity, how many people here have, or have considered
deactivating your social. That's almost everyone. That F.O.M.O. you feel,
the highlight reels, the social currency, those are all results of a relatively
'normal' social media experience. But what if going on social every day
was a terrifying experience? Where you not just
question your self-worth but you question your safety? Perhaps the worst stressor
on social media is number four: Online Harassment. 40% of online adults
have experienced online harassment. 73% have witnessed it.

pexels photo 67112

The unfortunate reality is
that it is much worse and much more likely if you are a woman, LGBTQ,
a person of color, muslim – I think you get the point. The problem is that in the news
we are seeing these big stories: The 18-year-old Tyler Clementi, who took his life after his roommate
secretly filmed him kissing another guy and outed him on Twitter. We see women like Anita Sarkeesian
being close to shamed of the internet and sent death and rape threats
for sharing their feminism. We see these stories once it is too late. What about the everyday
online harassment? What about that ugly snapchat
you sent your friend with the intention of it being private,
and now it is up on Facebook? 'And so? It's just one photo, it's funny.' 'Just one mean comment, not a big deal.' But when these micro moments
happen over and over again, over time, that's when we have a macro problem.

We have to recognize
these everyday instances as well. Because if they go unchecked
and the effects unnoticed, we are going to have
many more Tyler Clementis. The effects are not always
easy to recognise. How many of you have noticed
the notifications at the top of my screen? How many of you, like me,
are bothered that they're not checked? Ok, let me check them for you.
(Sighs) Okay! Just one small example
of what this can do to you. Maybe you simply cannot focus
because your notifications are going off the handle,
and you need to check. That need, eventually becomes addiction. Regarding social media,
we are already experiencing impairment similar
to substance dependencies. With every like, you get a shot
of that feel-good chemical, dopamine. You gain more of that social currency.
So what do we do to feel good? We check likes – just one more time. We post – just one more time. We are anxious if we do not have access. Doesn't that sound like every drug
you have ever heard of? Yeah! So when that grows, when your social media use
goes unconfronted overtime, that's when we see the rising levels
of anxiety and depression: the F.O.M.O.

The distractions,
the highlight reels, the comparisons; It's a lot, and it's all the time! The Canadian Association of Mental Health found that grades 7-12 students
who spent two hours a day on social media reported higher levels of anxiety,
depression and suicidal thoughts. For those of you doing the math,
that's as young as twelve years old. Here is the thing,
I like social media. I do, I love it. Hearing what I've said today might make you think
I want you to get off of it.

But I don't. I don't think it's going anywhere, so I'm not going to waste my time telling you to spend less time
on social media. Frankly, I don't think
absence is an option anymore. But that does not mean
you can't practice 'safe social'. Everything I have talked about today has nothing and everything to do
with social media. I mean, social media
is neither good nor bad. It's just the most recent tool we use
to do what we have always done: tell stories and communicate
with each other. You wouldn't blame Samsung Television
for a bad TV show. Twitter doesn't make people
write hateful posts. When we talk about
this dark side of social media, what we really talk about
is the dark side of people. That dark side that makes
harassers harass; that insecurity that makes you
take down a photo you were excited to share.

That dark side that looks at a picture
of a happy family and wonders why yours does not look like that. So as parents, as educators,
as friends, as bosses this dark side is
what we need to focus on. We need preventative strategies
and coping strategies so that when you have your low days –
because you will – when you're questioning your self-worth,
you never get as low as Tyler Clementi – and the many others like him. 'OK, Bailey, how do you find
social media wellness?' Here's the good news: Recognising a problem
is the first step to fixing it. So hearing this talk is just that,
step one: recognise the problem.

You know the power of suggestion, when someone tells you about something
and you start seeing it everywhere. That's why awareness is critical. Because now you will at least
be better able to recognise these effects if and when they happen to you. The second thing you are going to do
is audit your social media diet. The same way we monitor
what goes into our mouth, monitor whatever goes
into your head and heart. Ask yourself: 'Did that Facebook scroll
make me feel better or worse off?' 'How many times
do I actually check likes?' 'Why am I responding
this way to that photo?' Then ask yourself if you are
happy with the results.

You might be and that's OK! But if you're not, move on to step three. Create a better online experience. After my partner did his audit, he realised his self-worth
was too tied up in social media, but particularly celebrities reminding him
of the things he didn't have. So he unfollowed all brands
and all celebrities. That worked for him. But it might not be celebrities for you. For me, I had to purge
other people off my timeline. Let me tell you a secret. You do not have to follow your 'friends'. The truth is that sometimes our friends, or the people we have
on Facebook as a courtesy, they just suck online! You find yourself in this
passive-aggressive status war you didn't even know was happening.

Or you are looking at 50 photos
of the same concert from the same angle. (Laughter) If you want to follow artists,
or comedians, or cats, you can do that. The last thing you will do
is model good behaviour. Offline we are taught not to bully
other kids in the playground. We are taught to respect others
and treat them how they deserve. We are taught not to kick others
when they are down, or take pleasure in their downfalls. Social media is a tool.

A tool that can be used for good,
for more positive groups, for revolutions, for putting
grumpy cat in Disney movies. (Laughs) Internet is a weird place. Is social media hurting
your mental health? The answer is: it doesn't have to. Social can tear you down,
yes, or it can lift you up, where you leave feeling better off,
or have an actual laugh-out-loud. Finally, I have 24 hours in a day, if I spend two of those hours
on social media, then I want my experiences to be full
of inspiration, laughs, motivation, and a whole lot of grumpy cat
in Disney movies. Thank you. (Applause).

As found on YouTube

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