THE BLOG

Social Media Is Hurting Young People But There Are Solutions

23/08/2016 10:51

There is a catalogue of risks on social media that is not being addressed. From the overwhelming pressures being put on young people's body image, to the horrific bullying that occurs on Facebook, social media is becoming a boiling pot of risk. These risks are having a catastrophic effect on young people's mental health.

On Instagram there is more and more pressure on young people to post the perfect photo, use the right filters and have the right body type. These pressures are causing some young people to go to extreme lengths to match this so called ideal standard.

CJ Michaels, 23, from Southend, was immensely affected by social media and the pressures that come with being online.

CJ said "I felt the immense pressure to be perfect, no blemishes, stick thin - even toned up - because social media outlets like Instagram have a reputation for hoarding 'fitness' type of people, I felt that if I didn't keep up to their standards of what defined "beauty" that I was just failing."

She described how the pressure to look good on social media was starting to have a major effect on her life: "it made me extremely insecure, not only online but in real life as well. The need to look good, both online and in real life was heart breaking, for myself but also for my family who just wanted me to love myself for the genes that they gave me."

Discussing the extreme measures she took, she said "if I'm taking pictures just for social media (and not going out) I will triple the amount of make-up I'd normally put on, It's also all about the lighting, I find the best lighting is just as the sun comes up, so the day lights not so harsh to wash you out. A lot of the time I would get up in the early hours, do my make-up, ready for about 5:30-6am. I'd then be glued to my phone for hours editing away. Its caused a devastating effect on my life, and my security in myself - but it all simply sparked from seeing thousands of gorgeous girls online, in magazines and going 'why can I not look like that?'."

CJ's story is not unique, and clearly outlines the effect social media can have on a young person's developing mind and shows the extreme lengths young people are going to in order to fit the mould of what seems to be an egocentrically driven world.

So who's to blame for this? Has this issue been created by the idealism of young people or have these issues come about because of the incompetent and lack lustre approaches by social media firms to regulate and police this space.

I recently wrote a research paper with Parliament Street, which took an in-depth look into an expanding range of dangers online and how it is impacting young people's own body image and mental health. The research paper found, through a mixture of personal testimonies and key figures, that the pressures online are contributing to the development of body image disorders such as Anorexia, Bulimia and Body Dysmorphic Disorder. Alongside body image disorders, the high level of bullying and trolling is putting an increasing number of young people at risk of suffering from anxiety disorders. The paper made three key recommendations to solve these potent issues:

  • Recommendation one: Social media outlets have a responsibility to combat cyber-bullying online and we recommend there is taskforce set up to police this space. This could include help channels, dedicated staff to provide counselling, and support for those who feel abused or distressed whilst using social media platforms.
  • Recommendation two: There should be required online support for mental health on all social media outlets. It should become mandatory for mental health support services to be part of the DNA of networks like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
  • Recommendation three: The government should create a minister for mental health. For too long this role has been ignored, underfunded and overlooked. Any government which is serious about tackling this terrible challenge should appoint a member of parliament who is dedicated to improving the services and care available to those who suffer from mental health problems.

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