IS SOCIAL MEDIA DAMAGING YOUNG WOMEN'S MENTAL HEALTH?
Big bad social media is making headlines again with the news that a quarter of all women on social media are suffering from depression. Incidentally, these are headlines that have mainly been shared on social media… but let’s breeze past all the hypocrisy and nonsense and get right on down to the numbers.
NHS Digital has published new data showing that the rate at which young women are experiencing mental health symptoms such as those associated with anxiety and depression is increasing markedly compared to the same symptoms in young men. In 1993, women were twice as likely as men to exhibit the symptoms, but this new report suggests that this gap has increased, with women now three times more likely to be affected.
Sally McManus, the lead author of the report mentioned common causes of mental health issues for women such as abuse and violence, but also mentioned that they are the ‘first cohort to come of age in social media ubiquity. This is the context they are coming into and it warrants further investigation.’ This indication that social media could be linked to mental health conditions isn’t brand new, but in the context of a formal report into public mental health in Britain, it’s interesting to hear it so pointedly marked.
Before you ditch your smartphone for a burner and start using your laptop merely as a dinner tray, it’s worth noting that mental health charities have a lot more suggestions that could account for the rising statistics. Stephen Buckley, head of information at Mind, listed a whole heap of combined factors; 'Young people are coming of working age in times of economic uncertainty, they're more likely to experience issues associated with debt, unemployment and poverty, and they are up against increasing social and environmental pressures, all of which affect well-being.' He did acknowledge the potential for social media to negatively impact mental health, advising people to avoid sites that they know are going to trigger negative feelings and 'take a break from social media if you’re feeling vulnerable.' We see a fair amount of celebrity stories flying around with people disappearing off social media in times of crisis, abuse or speculation, so it’s good at least to know that this is in line with some good advice.
An interesting point to acknowledge is that, while women come off worse in the list of statistics, outnumbering the numbers of suffering men in plenty of areas including self-harm, post-traumatic stress disorder as well as the number of people who have experienced suicidal thoughts, it is young men who still lead the sad figures on suicides. In the UK, three quarters of suicide cases are male, and in 2014 alone there were 4623 male suicides. That’s twelve men per day. All year. Of course women are also affected by depression and other conditions that lead them to suicide, but given the figures on mental health we just heard about – where does this shocking gap come from?
We need to pay attention to all of these resources. Just because less women are committing suicide it doesn’t mean they are less in need of support – and there are more of them who need it – but just because data tells us young women have it worst in terms of mental health disorder symptoms, this doesn’t mean it’s a black and white divide. The men who are struggling don’t seem to be getting the right kind of help. There are common ideas on why this might be, mainly around the social acceptance of women’s vulnerability, which arguably makes it easier for us to ask for help, and to accept it, but just speculating the cause of the issue doesn’t help. We started here with a headline about social media affecting young women, but actually social media isn’t the only problem and women aren’t the only ones who need help with it. Let’s use social media to keep pushing back at gender stereotypes to make it easier to find help for anyone who needs it, without questions of strength or circumstance.