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Mental health in Singapore: Is social media negatively impacting youths and adults?

Mental health in Singapore: Is social media negatively impacting youths and adults?

#RuOk

Text: Janice Sim


In memory of the girl I used to know

Kanye West might have waxed lyrical about many questionable things, but one thing he recently mentioned struck a chord instantly.

"There are people who are committing suicide due to not getting enough likes. Seeking validation in the simulation," he tweeted ironically. "We should be able to participate in social media without having to show how many followers or likes we have. Just like how we can turn off the comments, we should be able to turn off the display of followers. This has an intense negative impact on our self-worth."

The topic of social media might have been brought about by the ever-so controversial Ye who plays God whenever he feels like it, but it's something that hits home. Probably because I was guilty of it. 

To be completely transparent, World Mental Health Day (which falls on October 10) never meant that much to me, until a few days ago. A girl, whom I had lost contact with, had died of a suicide.

But I won't be sharing her story here, because it's not mine to tell. Instead, I write this piece in her memory because the struggle is closer than most people think. It can be quiet as a mouse or as deafening as sirens warranting immediate attention yet gradually dissipating. People begin to turn a blind eye, just because the episode repeats itself like a broken record — like the boy who cried wolf.

It's plain to say my life revolves around social media — given the nature of my job as well as where my personal interests lie. And sometimes, the screen time (as so kindly reported by my iPhone) is mind-boggling. How is it possible that I spend an average of 40 minutes on Instagram everyday? Probably because it's a bottomless feed — fueled with juicy opinions, click-bait visuals, moral spiels, and dramatic emotions all growing by the second. Probably because it's where I get inspired from #travelpretty squares, or where a lot of stalking happens. Admittedly, the latter happens more often than the other.

Before you read on further, I would like to address that there's plenty of good that is in social media. Career prospects, effective circulation of positive messages, the bridging of gaps, and how I know which actress Timothée Chalamet is currently seeing via one of those creepy fan accounts. But it's also probably why it's harder to see the ugly side effects brewing underneath the glossy online personas we have conjured for ourselves.

EVERYTHING IS A COMPETITION

"Who's living the best life?" I imagine this to be the unspoken brief for social media. 

The whole world needs to know where you're having dinner/who bought you an expensive bag/which fancy hotel you're holding up at/what your flawless face looks like without makeup. The best form of humble bragging it seems.

"Social media has definitely altered my views on myself and the people around me. I do all these internal comparisons between myself and the people I see on screen — even when I know it's not healthy to do so." —Atika Lim, 24.

Cindy Toh, psychologist, says: "With the amount of time we spend fixated on our screens and the unfolding of others' best versions of their lives posted up, it is likely for us to get caught up in upward social comparisons, which could impact us negatively in the areas of self-esteem, acceptance, anxiety, and even lowered mood and depression."

A breeding ground for narcissists, which admittedly we all are. There's nothing wrong in flaunting what you have; instead it's being aware of the reality. To realise that social media just chooses to display the rosy stuff, instead of what happens when the camera isn't rolling. 

A NUMBERS' GAME

There's no dislike button on Instagram. But with the 'Like' button, comes the lack thereof.  The validation online has superceded validation in person. And if you're not getting enough likes or followers, you're not worthy — that's what people are telling themselves. Which brings in West's string of angsty tweets on the disastrous effects of the number of likes and followers displayed like a personal accolade.

"It baffles me when a new post I feel confident of, didn't seem to get as many likes as my previous posts. I get nervous and overly cautious before I decide to post something new. It sounds ridiculous but I can't help these feelings." - Anonymous, 29. 

When did we decide to base our self-worth on numbers? We used to look up to someone for their physical demeanor and personal accomplishments... but now the future generation is looking up to people, solely because they have a 20k following. It's ludicrous.

OUT IN THE OPEN

What used to be private or kept personal is now easily flashed out to the public eye. You're serving information out on a silver platter to engage and fish out reactions. Of course, that is the point with social media. But it is a double-edged sword.

"People post something as innocent as their thoughts or what they had for a meal, and in return, they receive negative hurtful comments from other users," remarks Dr. Abishek Abraham, consultant psychiatrist. "It can affect the person's self-esteem, mood or anxiety level. Basically what is known as cyber bullying. Some victims have even resorted to suicide as a result of it."

While the act of cyber bullying is impermissable, there's a certain responsibility that we have to undertake when we choose to put ourselves out there. The fact that you're exposing a personal facet of your life, also means you're opening the floor for reaction and discussion — the good and the bad kind. 

"There's an avenue of negativity that people don't see. I want to be present and mindful in real-time, and not via a shout-out on IG stories." — Crystal Lee, 32. 

ARE YOU THERE?

Meal times used to be about deep, meaningful bonding sessions. But now they largely involve shuffling between my smartphone and picking up from where the conversation left off. Sadly, it's not even considered a social faux paus anymore — it has become a social norm.

Crystal Lee, who works in publishing, made the decision a year ago to quit her personal social media handles. "I find everything online very manufactured. Call it fatigue but I was tired of it all. There's an avenue of negativity that people don't see. I want to be present and mindful in real-time, and not via a shout-out on IG stories." 

Social media

"More youths and young adults are so immersed in social media that they neglect the relationships in the real world. Greater numbers are presenting to the clinic with symptoms of social anxiety and displays of social skill difficulties due to minimal interactions with others outside of the digital world," says Dr. Abraham. 

I don't know about you, but as much as I'm bounded to social media, nothing beats the clarity of physical interaction. There's no pent-up aggression from a fullstop at the end of a sentence. There's no speculation if that smiley face means an entirely different thing. It's clear, it's real — you can even physically touch it if you wanted to. So yes, contrary to popular belief, there's more to life than just #content you see online. Don't take it so seriously, it's just social media. 

Looking to get help for a mental health crisis? Visit Samaritans of Singapore, or you can call their hotline, 1800-221 4444 

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