HOW INSTAGRAM IS TACKLING OUR HESITATION TO DISCUSS MENTAL HEALTH
It’s a downfall of being very, very British. Stereotypically, we just aren’t up to scratch when it comes to talking about our feelings. Similarly, it can be hard to express concerns when we’re worried about someone else… What if we’re wrong? Will they think we’re butting in? Is this really any of our business?
Even though the human interaction is pretty evident in its title, ‘social’ media isn’t always the best frame for these personal conversations either; whether or not you feel able to approach the subject of difficult feelings, the rose-tinted nature of the public persona that we (most of us) allow the world to see isn’t always the most honest when it comes to sharing the things that really matter. But when we do spot something online that sparks concern – what can we do about it?
Instagram is stepping into the mental health arena and helping us to tackle our shyness over surrendering the truth. They’re introducing a new tool to the platform, which allows users to flag content that they find troublesome, so that the Instagram team can offer support to the user in question. Whether it’s a friend, or even a random post from a stranger, if you spot something that gives you cause to be concerned for someone else’s wellbeing, you can step in, and they receive a message of support: ‘Someone saw one of your posts and thinks you might be going through a difficult time. If you need support, we’d like to help.’ They’re then presented with different options that might be of help, ranging from talking to a friend, to getting in touch with specialized support organisations.
I’d be interested to see how the different options play out. If you select the ‘talk to a friend’ option, does Instagram help open dialogue by sending them a message on your behalf and letting them know you’d like some support? I’m not sure, but to make sure their messaging is helpful rather than intrusive, Instagram have worked with organisations such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and the National Eating Disorders Association to formulate the language they’ll use when approaching these sensitive subjects.
This seems like a great step forward – as much as I’m sure we’d all like to in theory, it’s not always easy to reach out to people when we suspect they’re not feeling too good, especially when that person might be a stranger. With the open nature of social media platforms, from retweets to explore pages, we’re constantly exposed to content from a wide range of people, whether we know them personally or not. With this tool it could be easier to offer a distant helping hand.
Now, this technology seems to rely on someone spotting a problem and taking the initiative to step in, but that’s not all. In any case, not all troubling behavior on social media is outward-facing, i.e. it’s not just posting on our own profiles that make up our experience of Instagram, it’s browsing other people’s content, liking, commenting and generally browsing around that can affect us. In an attempt to support this side of the experience too, another feature of the new tool means that the same support messages can be triggered without needing another user to flag a post. If people are browsing for troubling content, for example searching for hashtags that might be associated with less-than-healthy behaviours, such as #thinspo (or other tags that are commonly used in the dark, pro-anorexia corners of the internet) they will see a pop-up message, checking that they’re okay and suggesting possible sources of support for any issues.
This is the kind of tool that isn’t likely to get it right every time, in every situation. But even if you’re actually alright and something is misconstrued, I don’t think most people would take it as a bad thing to know that other people out there are thinking about them and care enough to make sure they’re getting any help they need. You might not know who it is, or even what you did to make them worry about you, but knowing that there are people out there in the anonymous web of social media who do care about how you’re feeling, just might make the difference when you need it the most.