Is social media the main contributing attribute to mental health problems?


Mental health conditions such as Eating Disorders and Body Dysmophia are growing in the UK within the younger generation. Is this due to face-perfecting filters found on social media causing young adults to feel self-conscious about themselves?

In late October last month, Instagram banned face-altering filters that promoted plastic surgery. This ban was aimed to reduce and diminish the cause of negative mental health which is surrounded by this particular media. The filter ban incudes the Fix-me filter (Plastica) which allows users to see where their face would be marked for cosmetic surgery. This filter, which was available on social media sites like Instagram, distort the face, making it appear slimmer and smoother and is able to elongate your jaw; making anyone who used it look like a Face Tuned version of themselves.


                                    Photo credit: Daniel Mooney (curator of fix-me filter)


This ban highlights the many concerns which surrounds our society today which is the growing number of mental health issues such as anxiety, depression and Body Dysmorphia. The filter shown here created by Mooney, are telling individuals to ‘fix their face’. This lexis used is not only seen to be damaging to a human’s self-perception but make people believe that they need to look a certain way to be accepted within society.

A study conducted by the Mental Health Foundation (UK) and YouGov in March 2019, found out that out of 1,118 UK teenagers aged 13-19, 31% felt ashamed when referring to their body image. This study relates to the theory made by Catherine Kenny, Sunderland University senior lecturer in Psychology who argues that conforming to social norms which are presented on social media are what the younger generation is socialised into doing, therefore causing them to doubt themselves when exposed to content on visual sites like Instagram.



Although there is no direct and clear link that social media is the cause of how teenagers are currently feeling, Ashley Cave, a Mental Health Advisor at the University of Sunderland, claimed within an interview that “Social media is a massive issue and as it a relatively new phenomena we really can’t say how much it impacts mental health long term. How we use social media will largely dictate how we feel about it. Some accounts have the potential to bring us down and others can lift us up.”

It is clear that mental health illnesses are being recognised not only within the UK but worldwide too, with evidence from the ONS and charity organisations who specialise in mental health issues but it is still unknown the real statistics on people with the disorders.

Within Western societies such as the one we live in which relies so much on social networking via the media, it has become impossible to avoid it. According to Ofcom surveys in 2018, Brits need to have constant connection to internet and are checking their smartphone every 12 minutes. This suggest that the more access individuals have to these filters and tools on social media like face altering apps, people will compare and begin to view themselves in negative ways, as they notice their flaws compared to the person they can be on social media.





Research suggests that the increased exposure to ‘idealised’ images of other women, couples, and lives in general, is linked to decreased happiness with one’s own life.

India Wilson, a 20 year old student from Newcastle who had suffered from an eating disorder for three years, told me in an interview about how she felt anxiety and depression when comparing herself with people online.

She explained how: “social media was a toxic place in some ways whilst in recovery. Although this was a platform which gave me help and led me to online friends, it made it easy to compare myself to other people who were in recovery themselves, which again affected me negatively.”

On the other hand, according to some, social media does the opposite for young people who are struggling with self gives people who have disorders a platform to meet and connect, which can help individuals, instead of causing these issues.

The charity Beat’s External Affairs Director Tom Quinn said within an interview that: “Eating disorders can be highly isolating illnesses, there is a risk that people will find the content on online sites distressing and some content can trigger their eating disorder behaviours.”Quinn also argued on the other hand that social media is not all negative and can help: “some people who are ill may seek out online groups to find ways of maintaining their illness.”

He claimed that many “sufferers who have faced or are currently facing these disorders can find online communities helpful as a space where they can share experiences and talk to others who understand their feelings and the difficulties faced in recovery.”

India, who was fifteen when she first became aware that she had an eating disorder, stated that: “Although filters, and celebrities who promoted ‘slimming teas and tablets’ affected me negatively when I was 15, I would not blame every case of an eating disorder on social media because there are so many factors that contribute to the growth of this illness.”

It is clear from this interview that the increase of younger generations being active online does show how people across the world presented a perfect version of themselves, which may lead to comparing lifestyles negatively. However, recognising that social media sites are not the only contributing factor which can progress a mental illness, it shouldn’t take all the blame of the uprising number of mental health issues being recorded.


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