- 18 November 2019
- Posted in: Health & Social Care, Education & Training
Social media has transformed how we receive news and interact with one another. Whilst this platform can be effectively used to strengthen friendships and express emotions, it can unfortunately also result in addiction, isolation and have a damaging impact on the individual’s mental health and emotional state. Statistics show that 75% of those with a mental health condition start developing it before the age of 18, with depression and anxiety being the highest reported issues. Due to the ever-changing, high pressure, fast paced nature of today’s society, the younger generation often perceive the world to be uncertain, risky and finite. Adolescents are fuelled with anxiety and craving future stability and security.
In spite of this, the current and prospective generation of students are acutely aware of their wellbeing, actively thinking about their social networks, emotions, physical and mental health. Students tend to be fairly open about their experiences and utilise a broad range of support which, given their intuitive connection with digital technology, often includes mindfulness phone applications and virtual friendships. The use of technology and online communities has become the preferred medium to socialise, express oneself and share news. However, it can also have an adverse impact when used excessively or out of context. This raises the question, does social media lead to transparency of emotions or mask real emotions behind an online persona? Aside from the risk of cyber bullying, a vast amount of time and energy is invested in online activity and profiles, which can result in feeling disconnected from the real world over time. The obsession of scrolling through ‘news feeds ‘and ‘highlight reels’ leads to a fear of missing out or distorted feelings of failure and falling short when comparing to others. In addition, the constant pinging of notifications mounts up, causing information overload, a loss of concentration and increased anxious feelings.
A concern lies in students self-identifying as the struggles they’re facing and ultimately, their poor mental health becomes normalised. In addition, the pressure of appearing ‘perfect’ online can often define who they are to the extent of crippling their self-worth, esteem and confidence. This forms their new identity and the perceived norm rather than establishing a realistic benchmark on which to improve. Hence, online friendships and applications seem to help and harm in equal measure. Government are clearly aware of the importance of mental health as demonstrated by the recently published ‘wellbeing and mental health guidance’. But are we truly doing enough to put this into practice and support our younger generations? Some universities do indeed offer a wide range of support, including welfare, wellbeing and counselling facilities. However, over the past five years, 94% of universities experienced a sharp increase in the number of students trying to access support services, with some institutions observing a threefold increase. Furthermore, students dropping out of university with mental health problems has more than trebled in recent years. So how do we create a culture that enables students to express themselves and explore new strategies in order to pinpoint a combination that works best for them?
Friendships within a university environment play a significant part in student experience both practically and emotionally. Whilst most students will confide in friends, a large proportion of students are reluctant to disclose their concerns or challenges to university support services due to a fear of being judged as well as issues with trust and confidentiality. This engagement gap can be plugged with the facilitation of peer support and a healthy, positive use of social media. Educational institutions need to develop and encourage student networks to unlock the full potential of peer support as ultimately, by utilising the student’s human qualities, we transform them from being ‘victims’ to the ‘solution’. Connecting like-minded students can have a substantial influence on their mentality, self-esteem, productivity and wellbeing. Students need a supportive, non-judgemental set-up to have honest conversations about thoughts, emotions and challenges, work through stressors, know they are valued and develop that vital sense of belonging that can make all the difference. Everyone deserves a future where they feel stable and secure within themselves and the environment they live, work and socialise in. So we need this vision to empower and enable the future generation - and the time to act is now.