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Social Media and Mental Health
February 12, 2019

Until recently, the vast majority of those suffering from mental health did so in silence for various reasons. Over the past few years, however, this formerly taboo topic is being increasingly discussed, with actors, athletes and artists all revealing their personal struggles. While there are many different root causes, one common theme is social media, particularly Instagram.

Early adopters shared carefree, unfiltered photos which slowly turned into staged, heavily edited shots designed for or in collaboration with brands. Having constant access to polished, perfect images daily can affect how we feel about ourselves and our lives, leading to excessive and unhealthy comparisons and destructive behaviour.

Following recent news coverage of the Instagram accounts that 17-year-old Molly Russel was following before she took her own life in 2017, and that Pinterest had emailed her 14 graphic images a month later, Instagram have announced a new set of regulations concerning self-harm images to protect vulnerable users. The four new measures will restrict images and remove hashtags depicting any form of self-harm (though some images will remain to avoid stigmatising or isolating those who are posting them as a cry for help), offering support to those in distress and consulting with experts on additional solutions, such as using sensitivity screens to blur content so that it’s not immediately visible.

Although Instagram’s machine learning detection systems are unlikely to detect all inappropriate posts from the outset, these rules are nevertheless a step in the right direction and should be welcomed. That said, more work needs to be done to minimise the negative impact of social media on users’ mental health. While interacting on different networks affect people differently, Instagram has a bigger responsibility to continually seek out better options given that its users report higher levels of depression, anxiety, bullying and FOMO (Fearing Of Missing Out) according to a 2017 study by The Royal Society for Public Health in the UK.

What are your thoughts on these measures, and what is your own relationship with social media?

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