We ask because Saturday 10 October, is Mental Health Awareness Day. Of course, mental health problems can affect anyone (and we mean anyone) any day of the year but, hey, it’s a good opportunity to take a moment to focus on our wellbeing.
This year has been particularly difficult for most people. There’s the impact of the pandemic on our mental wellbeing, the political polarisation caused by Brexit, social turmoil around Black Lives Matter and a general uncertainty about when, or if, life will return to normal.
The Social Dilemma
If you haven’t seen it yet, it’s a chilling documentary-drama that exposes how our social media platforms are powered by a surveillance-based business model designed to mine, manipulate and extract our human experiences for profit. (Of course, we all had a pretty good idea what goes on but somehow it didn’t stop us scrolling through our feeds, liking, tweeting, playing Candy Crush and taking random quizzes to test our superior brain power . . .)
Now the very experts who built these technology platforms are sounding the alarm on their own creations, concerned at its unforeseen effects.
We mention this today of all days because on a human level, the pervasiveness of social media is having deeply worrying effects on mental health. Whereas in the past we could once shut our front door and home was our sanctuary, now we could be harming our mental health while sitting on the couch idly scrolling through our social media feeds.
The scale of the problem
Developed countries have seen massive growth in the number of hospital admissions and suicides since 2011, when social media platforms came into widespread use on smartphones.
- Among the general population more than 1 in 5 (20.6%) people have had suicidal thoughts at some time, 6.7% have attempted suicide and 7.3% have self-harmed.
- More than a quarter (26.8%) of young people aged 16-24 report have had suicidal thoughts, a higher percentage than any other age group.
- Over a third (34.6%) of women and a fifth (19.3%) of men aged 16-24 have had thoughts of suicide in their lifetime.
The Social Dilemma revealed that many in the technology industry will not give smartphones to their own children, do not allow them access to social media below the age of 16 and strictly limit screen time. Which kinda makes you think “What do they know that we don’t?”
How to improve your mental wellbeing
- Set aside time to relax and reduce stress – this includes the unthinkable: giving yourself some tech-free time
- Find ways to learn and be creative – perhaps a craft activity, drawing, painting or online learning. Many have found baking or bread-making therapeutic in lockdown (it must be all the kneading).
- Spend time in nature – Spending time outdoors or with animals can help improve your mood and reduce any feelings of stress or anger. (You could do both at the same time by walking a dog!)
- Connect with others – Pick up the phone and chat to a friend. Or maybe it’s a good time to return those calls from your mum.
- Look after your physical health – You know the drill . . . drink water regularly, think about your diet, keep active and try to avoid drugs and alcohol. Yes, we know they can temporarily make things seem better but in the long run they’ll make you feel worse.
- Try to get enough sleep – Establish a bedtime routine and wind down before bed. You’ll have heard how the blue light that’s emitted from screens can delay the release of sleep-inducing melatonin and screw-up your body clock so give yourself some tech-free time before trying to catch some zzzz’s.
Remember, if something is troubling you, contact Mind – you don’t need to go through it alone. And if you have any business worries that we can help you with, please reach out. We’re here to support you in any way we can.
 Fineberg NA, Haddad PM, Carpenter L, Gannon B, Sharpe R, Young AH, et al. The size, burden and cost of disorders of the brain in the UK. J Psychopharmacol [Internet]. 2013 Sep [cited 2016 Dec 2];27(9):761–70.