Is Instagram Harming Our Mental Health?

With nearly a billion users worldwide, Instagram is one of the biggest social media platforms currently in existence. It’s a place cultivated by positivity where you can post photos and videos from your day-to-day life and view the same from your friends, family, and everyone else from around the world.

But what if that culture of positivity “for the ‘gram” is doing much more harm than good?

Instagram like count

Early in 2018, the UK Royal Society for Public Health (UK RSPH) together with the Young Health Movement surveyed over 1,400 British teenagers aged 14 to 24 to determine the effects of social media usage on their mental health. It was found that the general consensus towards Instagram was that it negatively impacted their body image and increased their fear of missing out.

Instagram has become a hotbed of anxiety, depression, skewed self-image, and FOMO ever since it became a norm to have attractive content that stopped thumbs mid-scroll — like a beautifully framed photo at a temple in Tokyo, a shot of your bikini body by the beach, or a flat-lay of your afternoon merienda at an artisanal café. With the algorithm change that bumped up “popular” posts and the increasing quantity of “Insta-celebrities” who make a living from having a perfect feed, users are more pressured than ever to present an idealized version of our lives.

Because who would want to “like and comment” on our photos otherwise?

Taking photos for Instagram

In the process, Instagram has increasingly filled us with feelings of inadequacy. When we constantly witness people we follow having fun nights out or traveling to different places over the weekend, we feel bad about not having as interesting a life as they seem to have. And when it’s our turn to boast about our travels or Friday night affairs, our focus shifts to the number of likes we get.

And when the number of likes we’ve gained isn’t as high as we would have wanted it to, we spiral into a pit of doubt and constant questioning: “Was the photo not pretty enough? Did I post it at the wrong time? Should I have FaceTuned my body? Did I use the wrong hashtags?”

It’s an endless cycle of worrying about how we look and how others perceive us.

“On the face of it, Instagram can look very friendly,” a representative of the RSPH, Niamh McDade, told The Guardian. “But that endless scrolling without much interaction doesn’t really lead to much of a positive impact on mental health and wellbeing. You also don’t really have control over what you’re seeing. And you quite often see images that claim to be showing you reality, yet aren’t. That’s especially damaging to young men and women.”

Because of this, Instagram has decided to curb these feelings of dissatisfaction by testing out the removal of the number of likes and views a post receives. According to Instagram’s head, Adam Mosseri, doing this could help the community have a much “less pressurized” environment where they aren’t competing with others. “We want people to worry a little bit less about how many likes they’re getting on Instagram and spend a bit more time connecting with the people that they care about,” he said.

While it does seemingly put all users on the same level, it neglects to answer other issues that don’t necessarily have to do with the number of likes and views, such as jealousy and social exclusion.

Instagram scrolling through feed

But if you think the problem lies in the following of models, bloggers, and influencers whose picture-perfect feeds encourage the false expectation of a life people should be living up to, that isn’t always the case. Your close friends and family can affect you with these feelings of jealousy and FOMO as well — possibly even more so than celebrities can, because it makes you wonder that if someone you know is living that amazing lifestyle, then why aren’t you?

Thus, we forget (or choose to forget) this universal truth: No one is happy all the time. No one is perfect. No one is actually flying to different countries, eating at all these different restaurants, and meeting up with all these friends every single day as what their Instagram feed suggests.

But with the way Instagram continues to be run, there’s no escaping the unhappiness it tends to cause.

This isn’t to say that Instagram, as a social media platform, is a danger. Ultimately, it’s a question of how we choose to use it. We might never let go of Instagram. But we can start by choosing always to love ourselves and the banality of our everyday lives.

How does Instagram affect your mental health? Tell us your thoughts in the comments down below!

Header Photo by Eaters Collective on Unsplash.com

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