Social media’s mental health advice is failing us, destroying community | Column | Opinions | Daily Collegian

Scrolling through Instagram, you might see some news or some birthday wishes. You might see your friends post pictures of their vacation or a night on the town.

You’ll see something else too — mental health advice.

Self-help culture has become ingrained in social media. Mental health advice is scattered all over Instagram, Facebook and TikTok.

These posts can be anything from daily affirmations to advice. Many of them aim to help reduce stress or anxiety.

Social media is designed to make us feel good. It’s been compared to a drug, because in a way, it is. It’s meant to be addictive — these platforms feed us more and more of what we want to keep us coming back.

Nuance and complexity get weeded out by algorithms, while simple and declarative statements are pushed to the top.

It’s led to quick-hitting self-help accounts becoming the staples of social media, but the more I see this stuff, I begin to wonder what the real value of it is.

Regardless of what the creators’ intentions were, social media platforms are made to make money, not help us.

Feeling better is not the same as getting better, and when it comes to mental health, social media is only concerned with the latter.

Too much of the mental health advice on social media creates a world centered around the individual. The solutions offered are found within yourself. They talk about self-love and acceptance.

These accounts tell the users what they want to hear, even if it’s not what they need to hear. The algorithm has no use for advice that’s challenging or tough. That’s not what keeps us coming back.

If isolation has played a large role in creating our current mental health crisis, how does advice centered around the self fix it?

I’m concerned about a world where we’re taught to put our own needs first. As social media has proliferated, social ties have loosened. So much of the advice teaches us that our most important relationship is with ourself, not our friends, family or the world around us.

We aren’t pushed to make lasting connections with others. Independence is valued over everything. Like a hedge fund on Wall Street, eliminating risk comes first as avoiding pain is equated to doing what’s right for us and the people close to us.

It’s lazy. Instead of real solutions, social media offers Band-Aids. It creates an illusion of self-help as we get lost in a never-ending scroll.

When we do what makes us feel better in the short term, we lose accountability. We’re always right. We never have to say sorry because if someone brings us trouble, they’re the toxic one. If we get confronted about it, well, that’s just more evidence of how innocent we are.

It’s a lot easier to convince us we’re right than wrong. When we frame the discussion around ourselves, we lose sight of where we fit in the world. We become arrogant.

This is the world we’re creating. If you put candy and carrots in front of a toddler, they’re going to grab the candy every time. That’s not the healthiest, but it’s the easiest.

It’s not that these impulses are new. They weren’t brought on by a younger generation. Being lazy has always been the easy way out, but now social media is just there to allow it.

We have to intervene. We can’t keep barreling in this direction. We need to build community systems that force us to put in the hard work. Our lives need to be built around the relationships we build with one another.

What’s concerning is that the more freedom technology allows, the more powerless the user becomes. The most destructive forces often arrive under the guise of freedom, as powerful forces go unchecked.

The more time we spend on these apps, the harder it is for us to be self-aware about their impacts. Social media rewires the way we think, changing the way we see ourselves and the world.

On the other hand, to ask the same people who created this problem to assert more control over their platform seems foolish. Designing an app does not make someone qualified to make the broad ethical choices required to confront these problems. That’s too much power for anyone, much less someone who doesn’t deserve it.

It falls on us to fix it. We have to push through the discomfort of doing the hard work. We have to take risks and build real connections.

We have to stop and think about what we just do because it’s easy and what’s actually worth it.

We have to stop scrolling and start working.

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