An Exploration of Mental Health in the Modern Age

Culture and Lifestyle, Opinion

By Kristina Eventov

First and foremost, I would like to preface this post with one disclaimer: mental health, like physical health is something we all have, but the degree to which it is “optimally-functioning” is something different altogether. So how then do we approach discussing mental health conditions, which are intrinsically personal and private conditions, in the open in order to achieve a balanced, comprehensive and compassionate understanding and awareness?

Let’s Open Up

When it comes to the presence of mental health issues in the media, I am very torn between two ends. On the one hand, greater discussion about mental health and mental health issues is undoubtedly a great thing for everyone. With more discussion come increased diagnoses and, hopefully, increased support and recoveries. If people understand what is going on in their brains, and they feel more comfortable opening up about it, how can anyone complain? There has been a greater focus on the very real presence that these issues have in our society, with many celebrities even contributing to the dialogue. This increased openness can help “sufferers” to feel less alone in what can often be very isolating and lonely times.

Needless to say, there has been a spike in the number of people suffering as a result of their poor mental health, and this isn’t a passing trend we should be adhering to; it represents a fundamental issue in society which we should be investigating

What’s in a Word?

However, what if having certain “buzz” words constantly circulating in society is causing an opposite, negative effect?
Though, of course, many people suffer from disorders such as anxiety and depression, these words have made their way into our everyday vernacular in the same way that we use “morning” and “night”. Far too often the statement “urgh I feel depressed” is thrown around as though it means nothing, when in fact to feel depressed is a very serious issue. With the traction these words are gaining, more and more people are becoming desensitised to the full weight of these words. The word “nervous” is being replaced by “anxious”; a very normal mood swing can lead someone to label themselves “bipolar”. As we become more comfortable using these previously ostracised terms, we may be getting too casual with them. IS there such a thing as too much awareness?

Photo by Quaz Amir on Pexels.com

Striking the Right Balance

I’m partial to a good meme here and there (who isn’t?), and I am definitely one for using humour as a defence mechanism. The thing is, how do you know when a joke carries a deeper meaning? When does a coping mechanism become a cry for help? It becomes much harder to distinguish between what is real and what is just “joking”. The onslaught of #relatable content is somewhat bittersweet in its ability to provide comfort and respite, yet aid the normalisation, and perhaps trivialisation, of serious issues.

Many TV shows, such as Skins and 13 Reasons Why, have been accused of glorifying, and even promoting, mental illnesses. So where do we draw the line? We want greater awareness, but not too much. If depictions of those struggling are “too real”, then they are considered a danger to and harmful for viewers. Conversely, if an issue is glossed over in order to limit the need for viewer discretion, are we then not undermining the experiences of those suffering from mental health conditions? It seems to be near impossible to strike the right balance and decide on which stance to take, though I suppose this is not surprising for such a complex and inherently personal issue.

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The Social Media Menace

Perhaps the significance of our own online presence is also to blame. While we are constantly reminded that “social media is not an accurate portrayal of someone’s life” (after all most of us will admit to sharing only our highlight reel) we still often forget that a social media persona is rarely a reliable representation. Consequently, we want celebrities to be frank and honest, to show us that their seemingly perfect lives are neither attainable nor realistic. However, when these more personal and candid insights are divulged, these celebrities’ struggles are oftentimes invalidated as those with affluence have “no reason” to be suffering. We encourage celebrities to be open and exposed, only to allow us to tear them apart more easily. We crave integrity and realism yet fault human imperfection. Is it then any surprise that so many celebrities too fall victim to mental health struggles? (Regardless of previous predispositions.)

It is as if a certain criterion has been set by society for who can and cannot qualify for having a mental illness. This isn’t necessarily a new phenomenon, though; we have been force-fed a belief that money and success come with a heightened state of happiness, rather than at its expense (which can often be the case). With an increased societal pressure to work the hardest and longest, along with employers’ higher expectations of what being a good employee entails, is (job) success really the antidote to sadness? 

Where do we go from here? With everyone’s differing experiences with mental health issues – from severity to complexity to proximity -, how can we ever hope to have the correct kind of dialogue? Then again, maybe any publicity really is good publicity; as long as we are talking about it, we are doing something right.

Social Media — It’s Time We Make it Mean Something

Opinion

We Keep Coming Back for More

If you ask anyone who regularly scrolls through their Insta feed, if they have ever felt insecure or inadequate after looking at a photo posted by a fellow user (celebrity or not), they will doubtlessly say yes! And if they say no, well, they’re lying.

I’ll be the first to admit that I am a massive hypocrite, I’m only human after all. While I don’t have a personal Instagram account (I deleted it one summer after becoming fed up of endless bikini beach shots), I do regularly scroll though Facebook, mindlessly reading subpar memes (ok some are actually quite funny) or catching a glimpse of a photo of someone who is virtually a stranger to me. And for what?

I tell myself I need Facebook to stay up to date with events going around me, maybe I’m scared my friends won’t include me in any plans if I’m no longer in our group chats. Is it because I have this constant need to stay relevant and in the loop, a need for likes and attention? Or because I am too involved in a reality, which fails to acknowledge the need for privacy, for alone time, and for genuine friendship?

Why, Why, Why?

In the end it comes down to the fact that social media is addictive. It plays on human traits and characteristics, on our need for approval, social competitiveness, jealousy, and on our insecurities. Every time we post a photo or a status, and every time we get a ‘like’ (a virtual, if disconnected, compliment), endorphins are released in our brains. We feel happy, successful, at least in that moment when we see the notification icon light up with a little red dot. We keep coming back for more, seeking approval, equating likes to popularity, to success and to friendship, mistaking appearance for substance. The worst part of all? Most of the time we don’t have the faintest idea of the kind effect our own photos or posts are having on our followers, or the influence others, such as companies, media outlets or even our friends are having on us.

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The Good Ol’ Days

Before the web and social media, in the good old days, showing off and sharing photos, equated to  gathering on a sofa looking through some prints from your cousins’, friends’, or even grandparents’ holiday, maybe you would be treated to a slide show if they were feeling a particularly impressed with themselves. The need for approval echoed the same motives behind our obsession with Facebook or Instagram, but with one key difference — context.

Looking through photos together, hearing stories, and anecdotes, which were often both good, bad and hilarious, is something we don’t really see on social media. No one, or rarely anyone, writes a huge caption about the fact that they had food poising just 24 hours before that perfect beach photo was taken, that they were oozing grossness from both ends of their body, that life is not picture perfect! That couple, always posting selfies together, don’t explain that they were fighting just ten minutes before that adorable photo was posted. That seemingly perfect girl, who always looks flawless in her pictures won’t share that it took her 500 shots and 300 different poses to get the right one. Hey, even that girl power pop queen won’t let you know it took 3 hours of makeup and a fair amount of photo shopping to look like a plastic Barbie doll.

Honesty Is the Best Policy

It seems like we have to look effortlessly perfect 24/7, appear cool and interesting. But what’s cool and interesting about being the same as everyone else? About sharing that holiday snap with a caption of a sun emoji? What does that tell me about you? In a world of fake news, and fake boobs, why can’t we just be honest with each other? In my perfect world social media as we know it today would not exist. But since this is an unrealistic expectation, I simply crave the day when someone posts a great selfie and captions it ‘I was feeling a bit bored and down today so wanted some likes to boost my ego’ (Hey, we’ve all been there). Or ‘Yeah I do have an amazing body, but it takes me a hell of a lot of work, and sacrifice, and there are days when I don’t think it’s worth it’.

Better yet would be if people began posting messages of substance. Images that reflect their intellectual achievements, talents, or skills. Why is our focus always on appearance and never of how we feel or what we think? Why do we never look to those achieving amazing feats, but instead worship the surface beauty of a handful of rich celebrities? And even when someone posts about an experience or even a hard time in their life, they simply get branded as attention seeking, while that vapid selfie get 100 likes!

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‘Hello, it’s the Real World Calling, We Want Society Back’

Maybe it’s time we put the phones down and stepped away. It’s time to go outdoors, meet up with friends, try out that new sport, and visit that art gallery we thought looked interesting. Even just for an afternoon, or a Saturday, what if we left our phone behind us just for a few hours!

All this is not to diminish the positive aspects of social media — that is one thing I should make clear. In many ways social media has worked to improve society, helping groups, who may otherwise not had the chance to find their voice, get their message heard. When it comes to women and this idea of the perfect body it’s true that platforms such as Instagram have helped to widen this definition, to make clear that we do come in all shapes and sizes.

Yet there remains this fixation with appearance over what’s inside (as cheesy as that might sound). And while a good friend pointed out to me the other day that in many ways an Insta profile is a form of art for the modern age, — it is a representation on how we wish to be seen, not the reality — I only ask that people take a look at themselves and think about who they want to be and what they think society should look like… Maybe it’s time we added some meaning to those smiling group shots and pouting selfies, at least once in a while?

Missing: Informed Opinions in the Age of Social Media and Brexit

Opinion

By Sophia Obrecht

Fake News seems to be the buzzword of the day, and as much as I may disagree with President Trump, his views and policies, the issue of false information is an important issue in society today — of course much of the current misinformation is actually spread by individuals such as the US president himself.

As a child I was always told not to believe everything you read, especially the things you see on the internet. At university you’re taught to only use information from sources that are believed to be reliable, so why then is it so easy to find fake information and misleading claims on the internet, in the public sphere, and in political campaigns?

Who Is in Charge Here?

One of the biggest issues with the spread of misinformation or ‘fake news’ is the lack of regulation when it comes to social media posts and fact checking. Social media platforms such as Facebook fail to take real responsibility for fake news, leaving the online world open to mass speculation and uncontrollable sensationalism. If you’re writing for a reputable magazine or newspaper, statements and facts must be checked. If you’re sat at home on your sofa, or even behind your desk in the Oval Office, ready to send out a tweet, there is nothing stopping you. Of course, social media platforms are, in many ways, designed to facilitate the spread of personal messages and opinions, and allow for the principle of free speech … but what happens when free speech becomes hate speech, or when personal opinions are represented as facts, with nothing other than hearsay to back them up, what then?

The B Word

The other day I couldn’t help overhear a conversation on a flight from Brussels to Manchester. One man says to another ‘We’ll be better off when we are out of the bloody EU, just look at Sweden, they’re doing ok with their Volvos, and they’re not part of Europe’. Just let that sink in, here was a man so against the EU, referencing the prosperity of another nation, Sweden, as proof of the positive effect of being independent from the European Union. But here’s the problem, if you haven’t already clocked it….Sweden is in in fact in the EU, free movement and all (minus the euro of course)! How can you be so against the European Union when you can’t even grasp the basics of which countries are actually member states?

So yet again we come to the big old B word, Brexit. So many of us have strong opinions on the subject, and so we should, it’s a political event that will shape our lives for many, many (many) years to come, and not for the better if you ask me (although some of you may disagree). The problem is, that to this day I hear so many strong voices, negative voices, claiming the EU is this and that, claiming we will be better off out of it. Of course there are those who shout loudly from the rooftops in favour of the EU, and I certainly won’t pretend to be an expert on the ins and outs, and fine print of the European Union, however I’m not part of the group fighting to change our status within Europe, which has seen the UK grow with the support of its European neighbours, and which allowed me to live and study abroad, a dream which I hope others will continue to enjoy. But on what grounds do those in favour of Brexit justify their opinion, show me the data, show me the plan, which reveals the bright shining future of Britain outside the EU ? I want more than anything to be proven wrong, to find that our post-EU situation won’t be as bad as what I believe it could be…but my hopes are fading fast.

Fake Photos and Unattainable Aspirations

Here in lies the problem, people shouting opinions, spreading information, simply repeating statements they have heard or seen on social media, ultimately leading to chain of misinformation. Of course myths, stories and old wives tales, have spread through word of mouth since the beginning of time, but there this something more sinister, as platforms like Facebook and Twitter allow for the mass spreading of misinformed opinions disguised as facts! Individuals become outraged, emotionally invested in a fact or statement that isn’t even based on truth. They are promised something, a better life, lower taxes, political control. However it is the prominence and prevalence of social media, seeing an opinion on a screen, liked by millions which serves to make such promises more believable.

Even when it comes to the images we see on social media, on Instagram, we are left looking at fake images, fake portrayals of what we believe to be reality. Whether it’s unattainable body shapes, created by Photoshop or practiced angles, we’re taught to believe in something that isn’t real — a political cause, a mass image of beauty, or a lifestyle which we won’t ever live up to.

So here is a call to action regardless of your political creed, left or right, leave or remain, whether you’re a prolific Instagramer or not, next time you feel outraged, intrigued, or even moved by a fact or statement you find online, or hear in the public sphere, take the time to read around the subject before you start sharing your thoughts with others, because informed opinions have the power to change this crazy, sensationalist world, all it takes is a bit of common sense.


Informed opinions have the power to change this crazy, sensationalist world, all it takes is a bit of common sense.