How is Mental Health Affected by the Media?
Author: Lamar Albukhari
Lamar Albukhari is a high school senior who's passionate about removing the stigma around mental health. In order to fulfill this passion of hers, she hopes to be a psychiatrist one day.
Trigger Warning: This article mentions suicide and self-harm.
Every time you deeply engage with media, you are making changes to your mental health. There is no doubt about the immense effect of social media on behaviors, emotions, or the mental health of mainstream viewers. Most anyone familiar with the unrealistic standards flaunted in media would agree that it plays a role in triggering depression, anxiety, loneliness, self-harm, and more. The influence of mass media contributes to a significant alteration to personal beliefs and well-being. Overall, the mass media serves as a central source of interaction and entertainment, while simultaneously influencing the public’s values.
The media changes people’s behavior using influential information, which later can affect the person’s beliefs then accelerate to harming their mental health. Often, the information posted in popular media is unreliable and exaggerated, which is harmful to the unsuspecting viewers. For instance, the media has been involved in promoting the prominence of certain kinds of mental illness, such as ADHD and depression without professional advice. Consequently, consumers of such media end up taking the information seriously, self-diagnosing, and even buying medications without prescriptions. Social media is profitable; 90% of U.S business uses social media for marketing purposes since people get so easily persuaded.
Once people are consumed by the media’s over-involvement in their lives, their mental health begins to deteriorate. It can cause anxiety, depression, and the overall fear of being judged. Hedonic Treadmill is a psychological principle whereby whatever level of success someone achieves, they will never feel completely happy and fulfilled about it. In relation to media, we can say that their happiness is tied with the amount of fame they get, specifically the number of followers they gain. A study, by a quarterly journal of experimental psychology, suggests that self-communication is effective for improving mental health. This is where mainstream media is detrimental; media hinders healthy self-reflection by polluting one’s perception of oneself with unattainable societal standards. Moreover, it causes one to ignore face-to-face relationships, and leaves them feeling jealous, irritated, and depressed. It can make people lose confidence in their life and appearance, and even, for some individuals, increase self-absorption by distancing them from real-life connections. Individuals become far too self-absorbed in crafting the best versions of themselves for social media, thinking it will help them achieve some sort of endless happiness. In addition, social media also causes fear of missing out (FOMO), which brings about the idea that not participating in popular activities lowers one’s value. This can impact your self-esteem, which may trigger anxiety.
Per several studies, suicide rates have increased over the years and have shown an association with social media. I believe that by investigating the why behind suicide reports, rather than simply writing it off as a tragedy, can contribute to suicide prevention. This belief is illustrated by the Vienna experiment, in which changes in media reports resulted in an 80% reduction in the number of suicide attempts. In this experiment, the research group abstained from over-dramatic news reports that romanticized suicide. Reporting on suicide can also create positive change. An 18-year-old girl called Ana attempted suicide. She lived to tell her experience on social media two days later. Before posting, she was in constant fear of being judged and was anticipating the worst. Hours after posting, a lot of her friends thanked and encouraged her for sharing her experience with them. Seeing the effect of her efforts led her to become a vocal promoter for mental health awareness; she initiated the Boston Marathon to raise funds to support mental health causes. Ana is just one out of 44 million Americans that suffer from mental health illnesses. In fact, stigma, shame, and the fear of being judged are the most common symptoms of mental health issues; the media is a tool to surmount that, and it also allows people to connect with mental health organizations, like Ana did, to push the mental health problem in a positive direction.
Media has played a role in spreading misconceptions by the frequent unethical and inaccurate information. Finally, an awareness of mental health struggle may contribute to reducing suicide rates and addressing the stigma and discrimination associated with mental illness. Psychiatrists and family medicine professionals in Pre-Health Shadowing’s live sessions also promote the importance of mental health, especially in young people who have vulnerable minds. I believe if that a growing culture of mental wellbeing is established within the mainstream media, there will be a positive change and a reduction of stigma.
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