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Social Media and Mental Health Part 1: The Positive Influence of Social Media

I recently had the privilege of speaking at Celebrate Recovery at Kings Church, where participants experience victory over the hurts, habits, and hang-ups that prevent them from experiencing the life God intends. The teaching, dealing with “Social Media and Mental Health”, has been adapted into this three-part series.

“My bologna has a first name, It’s O-S-C-A-R. My bologna has a second name, it’s M-A-Y-E-R.”

I’m a pepper, he’s a pepper, she’s a pepper, we’re a pepper… Wouldn’t you like to be a pepper too?”

“Plop, plop, fizz, fizz… Oh, what a relief it is.”

For those who belong to my generation, those words stir up memories of yesteryear, taking us back in time and making us feel nostalgic for our youth. Clearly, we are affected by the media we consume. Whether it’s TV commercials from days gone by or the social media world of today, the media has an impact. It has the power to sway us and impress us. It can affect our thinking and behaviour. It can even mold public opinion. For better or for worse, it affects us, it motivates us, it educates us, and it shapes us.

The Apostle Paul recognized how we are influenced by the things we take in. Instructing the believers in the city of Philippi, he wrote, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Philippians 4:8, NIV).

It’s the old “garbage in, garbage out” principle. Whatever you allow to go into your heart and mind is what inevitably comes out. Jesus expressed a similar thought when He said, “A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of” (Luke 6:45, NIV).

We are defined by whoever or whatever is influencing us. As leadership guru John Maxwell has succinctly put it, “Leadership is influence.” So you must ask yourself, “When it comes to the media and the influence it has on me, where it it leading me? What is it teaching me? Whether good or bad, how is it affecting me?”

The influence of the media has always been a concern, but this is particularly true today with the preponderance of social media options available. The way our society functions and communicates is vastly different from the way it was a generation ago, in large part due to social media.

Social Media platforms are the most popular sites on the Internet, and according to the Business Horizons journal, they can be grouped into six main categories:

  1. Social networking sites (e.g. Facebook)
  2. Blogs and microblogs (e.g. Twitter)
  3. Content communities (e.g. YouTube)
  4. Virtual game worlds (e.g. World of Warcraft)
  5. Virtual social worlds (e.g. Second Life)
  6. Collaborative projects (e.g. Wikipedia)

About a third of the world’s population has an account on at least one social media platform. Of course, the biggest of all the platforms is Facebook, with 1.9 billion monthly users. If Facebook were a country, it would be by far the largest country in the world. Whatever platform you use, though—whether it be Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, Google+, Snapchat, Instagram, Pinterest, WhatsApp, or one of a multitude of other options—they all come with pluses and minuses. In part one of this three-part series, we will focus on the benefits.

Benefits of Social Media:

1. It gives everyone a voice.

Social media allows people who would otherwise find themselves disconnected and living in isolation to communicate with the world around them, giving them a forum to share their beliefs and opinions. It provides opportunities for people to collaborate together to develop new ideas and technologies. Those dealing with mental illnesses have discovered social media to be a venue for expressing themselves freely while also finding a network of support. Introverts are able to use social media to say what they want to say while experiencing much less stress and anxiety than they would in person. While there are drawbacks to relying too much on social media, its communication potential is a definite benefit.

2. It overcomes difficulties with staying connected due to physical limitations or location.

Those who are not able to be as active as they’d like (such as the elderly or persons with disabilities) are enabled to stay connected with others despite their challenges. Likewise, family members and friends living in different parts of the world are able to stay in touch and informed about what’s happening in the lives of their loved ones. Social media offers plenty of opportunities for connectivity.

3. It offers accountability for life change.

Those seeking to break bad habits or adopt healthier lifestyles can use social media to “go public” with their goals and to be held accountable. Regular users have likely observed friends using social media for this purpose, or perhaps they have even done so themselves. For example, a person might set a weight-loss goal, then use Facebook to document his or her journey to a healthier lifestyle. If it’s placed on social media, there’s a higher likelihood that the person will follow through on the commitment.

4. It provides support for those dealing with mental health issues.

Some social media platforms are currently implementing new initiatives to address mental health concerns. For example, Facebook is developing an artificial intelligence that will scan posts for signs of depression or suicidal tendencies, with the goal of responding and providing aid to people who need it. The algorithm is intended to evaluate a person’s emotional state and detect warning signs in the comments, graphics, and videos that are posted as well as the emojis or reaction buttons that are used. And Facebook is not alone; other social media sites are developing similar algorithms. The hope is that this kind of analysis can serve as an early warning system for mental health issues and can direct people toward networks of support.

Clearly, social media offers certain benefits, including but not limited to the four mentioned above. These are the factors that initially attract many users to first create their accounts. As anyone who has used social media for more than a few minutes has discovered, though, it is not without its share of problems. Social media also presents certain dangers, which will be discussed in part 2 of this series. Then in part 3, we will discover how to set boundaries to reap the benefits without subjecting ourselves to the dangers.