Since its creation back in 2010, Instagram has gone from strength to strength and has quickly become one of the most popular social networking sites, with over 800 million users worldwide.
However, for an alarming amount of its users and mental health experts, the positivity which Instagram encourages is becoming a major issue in the lives of many young people around the world.
There is a relentless nature to Instagram, a feeling among its users that they must project nothing short of a ‘perfect’ lifestyle. From this arises the same question that has been asked millions of times before, ‘when is it time to stop scrolling?’
In comparison to Twitter, where a simple spelling mistake in a viral tweet earns you some nasty nicknames, Instagram actually appears to be quite a friendly platform to interact with. It is a visually led site, where trending posts will only go viral due to popularity. This is measured in likes that occur through a simple ‘double-tap’ on your screen, meaning posts go viral because of positive reactions.
However, there is growing concern that the emphasis on promoting positivity may be harmful to both yourself and those who see your content. Facebook may make you believe its users are boring, whereas Twitter may make you believe everyone is feisty, but Instagram, in many cases, makes you believe that everyone else is happier and better off than you. Being bombarded with happy couples, expensive clothing or just simple good looks in your face every time you open the application may not have a good impact on your mental health, and recently this has been highlighted as a major issue that needs tackling.
In 2017, the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH), an independent charity seeking to improve the mental health of the public, produced a country-wide survey of 14 to 24 year-olds, in which they asked them to rank the ‘big five’ (Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, Youtube, Instagram) in terms of how each one affected their sleep, and their F.O.M.O (fear of missing out).
Instagram came last in this survey, with results showing particularly bad scoring on areas such as sleep, self-body-image and F.O.M.O. Only Snapchat came close in terms of negativity. However, many believed Snapchat provided an opportunity for ‘real-world relationships’. Niamh McDade of the RSPH said: “On the face of it, Instagram can look very friendly. But that endless scrolling without much interaction doesn’t really lead to much of a positive impact on mental health and well-being. You also don’t really have control over what you’re seeing. And quite often you see images that claim to be showing you reality, but aren’t. That’s especially damaging to young men and women.”
The likelihood among young men and women is that they are following their favourite celebrities or footballers, all of whom are living lavish lifestyles much different to the norm. Logging onto a feed displaying items you can’t afford will create anxiety and depression and this is just one aspect of the potentially harmful factors associated with Instagram.
For Darragh, a 23-year-old from Dublin, the unrealistic nature of Instagram led to an unhealthy mind-set, one he says he could feel himself slipping into. “I just remember being in final year when my life revolved around studying and getting assignments done, the same sort of posts I was always seeing began to really annoy me. Seeing people going out and having a good time, or even travelling just really got to my head because I would be spending hours every day following the same routine for a year. It got to the point where I could feel I was about to get annoyed before I would even open the app but I would do it anyway, it was strange, sort of like an addiction that I hated.”
Unfortunately for Darragh, things became worse, something he partially puts down to his use of social media, including Instagram. He said: “The whole time I kept thinking that the feeling of depression or even anger looking at any sort of post would pass as soon as final year was finished, but it just never went away, and I wasn’t able to get that thought process out of my head. I ended up going to St. Pats for their mental health programme, that’s how bad it got.”
Instagram has always been the same platform, since its creation it has always been about self-promotion and perhaps displaying a false portrayal of how we live.
So, what changed? Why, after several years of using social media, was it only now Darragh saw issues with it? One factor Darragh believes might have played an integral role was the introduction of ‘sponsored’ posts, a system where you come across various adverts, mainly fitness related, that will appear on your timeline or as you tap through stories.
As well as this, a new algorithm meant popular posts based off follower numbers make it to your timeline even if you never followed them yourself. Darragh believes “I was never that active during that [final] year … sports had to be put on hold for projects and I could tell in my appearance I was gaining a bit of fat. And then I start seeing fitness posts everywhere and it just makes me that bit more conscious and it is nothing less than horrible feeling to deal with.”
Through Darragh’s words, I was able to understand how his daily battle with mental-health is one that is not easily won. We are constantly having adverts for the latest fitness workout or new fashionable clothing brand shoved down our throat, and it is advertising that is already impossible to avoid.
The constant use of Instagram may leave us chasing an unrealistic lifestyle that we will never reach, leaving us with an unfulfilled feeling that won’t ever go away.
For more information and advice on issues surrounding social media, you can visit www.rsph.co.uk