#Pulse Features Social media and the role it plays in mental health

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it’s evident that social channels are increasingly influencing people’s lifestyles in many ways.

play Man seated by themselves - social media and the role it plays on mental health. (Courtesy)

Hundreds of Kenyans have been affected by the increasing cases of online bullying, especially on social media, which has seen a section of the public fall victim to fraud while others have even gone to the extent of committing suicide.

In May last year, 27- year-old Brenda Akinyi took her life after she sought online help over her daughter’s rape incident. Instead of helping her, social media users preyed on her, accusing her of ‘fabricating’ the story - one of the most devastating and widely reported cases of social media bullying in Kenya.

Going by the current social media culture, it’s evident that social channels are increasingly influencing people’s lifestyles in more ways than initially imagined. Examples include the choice of dressing, food and the decisions people make.

The rush for easy solutions for some of the tough life-related issues, have pushed many to seek help from social channels - only to end up in a dark corner.  Many do this, without necessarily speaking to anyone about their problems. Other victims do not seek help but are adversely affected by unsolicited criticism from the online platforms.

Celebrities in Kenya fall victims of Social Media bullying

Adelle Onyango, an anti-rape advocate and radio host has on many occasions been attacked online - much of the criticism focusing on her looks.

play Adelle Onyango - the radio host has on many occasions fallen victim to cyber bullying. (Instagram)
 

The most recent incident being the scathing attack by blogger Cyprian Nyakundi in late 2016. The vile blogger tastelessly posed the question “who in their right mind would want to rape, let alone have consensual sex with Adelle” he posed on his Facebook account, at a time when the radio host was holding TED talks on the growing rape culture in Kenya.

Adelle didn’t let that bring her down, however, she gave Nyakundi a piece of her mind and media personality Janet Mbugua stood with her in solidarity.

Linda Nyangweso, a radio host at KISS 100 – Adelle’s co-worker- has been, and occasionally still is, the subject of discussion ever since a photo of her surfaced online back in 2013.

play Linda Nyangweso - the radio host has received online hate for her weight. (Zipo)
 

Online users were quick to comment on Nyangweso’s weight with many saying that her voice did not match her looks - among other hurtful remarks. Comments to which she responded saying “Omg woke up this morning to realize people have discovered my secret: I’M FAT”.

Adelle and Linda are among victims of online bullying. Others celebrities who have fallen prey to such attacks include Janet Mbugua, Betty Kyalo, DK Kwenye Beat and musician Jimmy Gait.

A notable difference, however, is that most of these public figures seem to have developed a thick skin and mastered the ‘skill’ of dealing with the online hate, but what about the rest that can’t deal with social bullying?

Social media and mental health/Statistics

Social media has turned the world into a global village due to the linking of people in different parts of the world and instantaneous transfer of information. 

Statistics gathered by Digital Marketing Agency Digital Edge, indicate that an estimated 5.5 million Kenyans are active on Facebook while Facebook (the company) estimates that 6.1 million Kenyans are active users.

Instagram follows with about 3 million users in Kenya while Twitter has an approximated 2.2 million users. These statistics were gathered between September and December 2016 , as we as the period from January to April 2017.

“While the benefits of social media can be endless, there is also a darker side to it that can affect its users. For instance, cyberbullying can culminate into mental health issues such as anxiety, low self-esteem, an addiction to social media, depression,” Mr Silas Kiriinya, director and psychologist at the Amazon Counselling Center, told Pulselive.co.ke journalist.

play Director and psychologist at the Amazon Counselling Center, Silas Kiriinya. (Pulse Live Kenya)
 

“If you are learning how to communicate on the virtual space then you are deprived of skills that will enable you to communicate face to face with people,” he added.

These and other underlying mental issues one may have could be escalated by the dangers of improper use of social platforms can impose.

Studies

A recent National Health Survey conducted in England revealed that there are rising cases of mental illness among young people between the ages of 16 and 24. The researchers blame social media for this.

The study highlighted bullying, body issues as well as oversexualisation and a need to compare someone else’s lifestyle as preferred to yours -especially for young women - as some of the factors that could have contributed to negative mental health issues.

From the statistics shown before it is clear that there is a massive number of users on these social platforms, however a 2017 report by the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) and the Young Health Movement showed that Snapchat and Instagram were the most detrimental to young people’s mental health due to their image focused nature.

While people may be aware that the glamorous life they see on their social media feeds is most of the time just ‘for the gram’ posts, seeing the posts still instills or rather enhances a sense of inadequacy which may lead to people wanting to share too much about their lives.

play Women taking selfies - people have the wrong perception of photos they see on Instagram. (Alternet)
 

“If you feel the need to share everything on social media then that means there are other underlying issues that you need to deal with,” psychologist Silas Kiriinya says.

He went on to add that a constant search for approval on social media could lead to depression if what someone posted online does not garner the type response that they had hoped for.

Indicators that social media may be affecting your mental health

Negatively comparing yourself to others while scrolling through social media, lack of sleep due to time spent on Facebook or Whatsapp and the urge to escape to social media as a way of avoiding human interaction could be early signs that social media is affecting your mental health. This is according to Mr Kiriinya.

“When you put out a certain lifestyle out there in the world, people are more likely to perceive that that is the kind of life that you live and when that happens the recipients look at you in a different class which you do not belong in. When they meet you and discover that what you portrayed is different from when they meet you face to face, they can stand looking down on you and this can lead to low self-esteem.”

What to do if you suspect that social media may be affecting your mental health

Mr Kiriinya advices anyone that feels like they may be affected by social media to begin by taking a break from social media.

play No social media - psychologist Silas Kiriinya suggests taking a break from social media if you suspect you are addicted to it. (Youtube)
 

“Consciously intend to meet real people and have interactions with them to help re-build your interpersonal relationships,” he said.

In addition, seeking professional help such as seeing a psychologist to help deal with the mental issues is recommended. If one is already has their diagnosis, for instance depression, then they should see a psychiatrist who will provide them with medication and seek additional help from a psychologist at the same time.

While as social media cannot be entirely blamed for the decline in mental health, the impact it has on our lives is still something that needs to be discussed.

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