Mental health and social media

Sometimes I’m asked about social media – is it good or bad?  Does it cause issues like eating disorders and self-harm, or is it a lifeline for the lonely?

That’s a bit like asking, “is a knife a good thing?” Sure. It can cut me a slice of cake, which is good. But – it can also stab me through the heart – not so good.

So let’s look at ten double-edged blessings of the online world…


1. It amplifies my voice when I find it hard to speak.

I’m an introvert and so wouldn’t feel like holding all the conversations I’m able to online. BUT ALSO…

It amplifies everyone’s voice, including the trolls. In this way it can just be a bigger version of the playground.

2. I can speak anonymously.

I can open up about issues and struggles in a way I wouldn’t if I had to put my name to it. BUT ALSO…

Bullies can attack in a way they wouldn’t if they had to put their name to it.

3. I can be who I want online.

There are parts of myself that don’t get expressed because of anxieties, disabilities and lack of opportunities. BUT ALSO…

I can pretend all too easily and get lost in an avatar, with no-one to reflect back reality.

4. It’s easy to reach out.

If I’m alone or depressed at 3 in the morning I can send out a lifeline. BUT ALSO…

Though at one level it’s easy to reach out, at another it’s very difficult to mobilise real help at a distance. If you tell me you’re suicidal (and you’re on the other side of the planet), there’s a limit to what I can do.

5. I can raise awareness for ‘hidden’ issues like mental health.

There are a wealth of online tools, from bloggers talking about their experiences, to online forums, websites supporting sufferers and loved ones, apps for mental health, extending the reach of professionals and providing us with incredible sources of research. BUT ALSO…

There are a wealth of resources for those who want to hide – unhealthy resources like pro-ana and self-harm sites.

6. I can feel connected.

Social media encourages some kinds of self-expression and it can be a lifeline for the isolated who have no other contact. BUT ALSO…

It can give a false sense of intimacy and encourage oversharing. Not everyone deserves to hear my secrets – that comes in the context of trusted friendships. But social media encourages an indiscriminate (and sometimes false) intimacy.

7. I can feel safe.

I’m physically safe as I type my greatest fears and vulnerabilities. We all want to be known and for the world to tell us “You’re ok.” The internet seems to promise us that safe space. BUT…

Rejection, even at a physical distance, can hurt just as much. And if we’re constantly opening ourselves up to disappointment and rejection online we can find ourselves more hurt than ever.

8. I can be real.

On this blog I’ve said things it would be hard to say face to face. For a start, you’d have to be quiet and listen for a long time. However, having shared in this way (and hearing from others), I’m encouraged me to be honest in the offline world too. BUT…

The online world is also – had you noticed? – full of unreality. Even the really authentic stuff is filtered and many present an image of a life no-one can live up to. It’s dangerous when we compare ourselves to a world that doesn’t exist; damaging for those with healthy self-esteem, and catastrophic for those with very low self-worth.

9. I can get instant feedback.

I fire off a prayer request on Facebook and instantly get 12 likes and a bunch of “Lifting you before the throne” and other neat phrases. BUT ALSO…

I can send off a needy message and want likes for all the wrong reasons. It’s hard not to invest in social media metrics and to find identity in them.

10. I can get to know a million brilliant people.

have gotten to know hundreds of wonderful sisters and brothers. And many of those relationships have developed into offline friendships. BUT…

We NEED real-life relationships; local church, people who see us and know us and interact physically with us. Online friendships can be valuable but they can’t take the place of actual interaction – and if we rely just on social media it can harm our communication skills and make us more isolated rather than less.


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3 thoughts on “Mental health and social media

  1. Thank you for this. As in everything, we must submit this medium to the Lord. Sometimes we can forget that God always sees what we post and click!

    Our family has seen both the good and bad sides of absolutely everything you listed here.

    We’ve had the prison and despair of hiding under a cloak of darkness and evil as well as the relief and the freedom of being known in the company of believers where time and/or distance would have otherwise prevented the connection entirely.

    I also find I have the courage to talk about certain things face to face with greater understanding because of a previous interaction online. I am also more willing to risk being known and rejected in real time because I know so many others who have already risked in that way too. Their bravery extends to me, and I know they will also share my sorrows and joys no matter what happens.

  2. been thinking about this since last Sunday – you know, the comments you contacted me direct to respond to. Particularly #6, actually. I don’t know if I should say this (maybe you’re too nice to call me out on this to begin with ..!), but yes, please do call me out (nicely – ie only ever on direct contact, not on the blog cos I will DIEOFEMBARRASSMENT) if I ever mumble anything that crosses boundaries of oversharing, especially if drastically so :x

    For now though I will just be thankful that there is a place for (virtual! :p) community that validates the hard stuff, listens more than questions, doesn’t give band-aid answers (nit that the professionals do, but I hate it when people smack a band-aid answer on me, regardless where its from), … cos ya, well certain things we’ve chatted about, I haven’t actually told my current therapist haha. I mean, I don’t exactly want to be asked how I feel/what makes me do this/feel this/say this, blah blah. I mean, sometimes I wish I knew too, lol.

    so thank God for you but please, please do holler (directly) if I overstep myself k. xx

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