Redefining Mental Health in an All-Digital World

Our Social Media Society

There are 7.7 billion people in the world. 2.38 billion of which are active on Facebook, and over 1 billion of which are active on Instagram — daily. That means that about 44% of the world’s population is liking, commenting, sharing, posting, and ultimately interacting with each other on just these two social media platforms every moment, of every day. In fact, the average American checks their phone once every 12 minutes, and the average Brit checks as much as 28 times a day.

Social Media’s Impact On Connection

With such an unfathomable amount of connection at our fingertips, it seems like togetherness and belonging would be a logical outcome. But this sense of connection is actually a lot different than we may have expected. More and more studies are revealing that the way we use social media can significantly impact our mental and physical health — from increased anxiety and depression to decreased attention spans, memory, sleep, and even self-worth. Supporting these findings, celebrities are also coming forward to talk about their battles with social media and mental illness, like Game of Thrones superstar Sophie Turner and mega pop icon Ariana Grande.

Is this the beginning of a turn for the worse for the connected generation of the digital world we live in? Not even close. The conversation around social media and its impact on mental health — both on and off the internet — is growing louder every day, and for the better. If you search #selflove on Instagram, you’ll find 28 million posts. And if you search #selfcare on Facebook, you’ll find hundreds and thousands of groups, articles, and other resources focused exclusively on this key phrase. But this isn’t to say that self-care and self-love are the same for everyone. Depression, anxiety, grief, and stress look and feel different for everyone. The similarities? They all require highly personalized care — and most importantly, quick and easy access to that care. Which begs the question: What if the same device that causes an increase in mental illness could also be the key to getting the help we need to get better, fast?

It’s easy to think we’d need to unplug and avoid social media to achieve happiness and manage stress. But doing just the opposite may be just what we need for relief. There are tons of specially curated Instagram profiles designed to ease the mind and soothe the soul — like @dosesofcalm, a page that’s entirely devoted to calming imagery and self-reflection, or @saraauster with her daily “sound baths” to combat negative thoughts and thinking — and even @selfcareisforeveryone, a space dedicated to honoring mental health and promoting self-care over everything.

Mobile Apps & Mental Health

Beyond social media — yet still in the digital world — are, of course, mobile apps. From guided meditations to yoga alarm clocks and even an app designed exclusively for those going through a breakup, mental health apps are on the rise and taking a greater share of the market due to the increasing number of disease diagnoses — especially those concerning mental health. Sal Raichbach, PsyD, LCSW told psycom that mental health apps have the potential to reach people who would otherwise not receive help by removing barriers to treatment — whether those barriers are due to financial stability or a certain level of illness stopping them from actually leaving their homes. “Another benefit of these apps is they allow for privacy and confidentiality,” Dr. Raichbach explains, “[they’re] a safe space for individuals who may be too ashamed to admit their mental health issues in person or who may feel that they will be negatively labeled or stigmatized by others. This private method allows these individuals to have that sense of separation they need while still being able to find the answers to their questions, all within the comfort of their own home.”

Digital Assessment Tools

Some studies have found online therapy to be as effective in reducing symptoms [of depression, stress, and anxiety] as therapy delivered face-to-face by a clinician — but many mental health professionals stress that the most ideal apps will have mental health practitioners onboard and ready to answer questions, plus a 24/7 support hotline for severe cases. Fortunately, these apps already exist — like Moodpath and Happify. Plus, they offer other advantages like not requiring insurance, travel, or appointments.

Amanda Doyle of Healthline explained that “Moodpath offers a mental health assessment that can help you make the judgment call about exploring professional treatment. Unlike other assessments that ask you to reflect on the past two weeks, Moodpath asks you in-the-moment questions over a series of 14 days to weigh your emotional well-being. The app is geared toward facilitating conversations with a professional, but you can also find more than 150 exercises and tools to work on your mental health within the app.” Happify, on the other hand, features evidence-based games and activities borrowing from positive psychology, cognitive behavioral therapy, and mindfulness — with an eye toward improving your mood for now and building resilience for later. These are only two of many specially curated mental health apps, and they’re only the beginning of an incredibly powerful movement.

As the race to own the best mental health app continues to grow more competitive, researchers and developers continue putting pencil to tablet. Alex Cooke of Magnus Health detailed a new trend in the space that may be able to prompt a warning for an impending mental health crisis. Describing the progress, Cooke writes, “As teens type out texts, scroll through Twitter, watch YouTube videos [and the like], they leave a digital footprint… And these digital footprints can offer clues about their psychological health. According to preliminary studies, changes in typing speed, tone, word choice, and even how often teens are staying at home could all provide insight into their mental well-being.”

Promoting Well-Being

If the average American checks their phones once every 12 minutes — and 44% of the world’s population is actively interacting with one another nearly every moment of every day (just on Facebook and Instagram) — how can we, as health and wellness marketers, make sure those interactions benefit their total well-being? Remember: We are all human beings. And human beings want to — meaningfully — connect with others. In fact, we’re hardwired to do so. So, whether you’re developing a new social media strategy, content marketing strategy, working towards another advertising effort or launching a new brand, remember to keep your values — and your consumers — at the core of everything you do. And don’t forget to reach out for help.

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Erin Schroeter

Erin Schroeter is a Content Strategist/Copywriter at Trajectory. With a passion for all things social/digital, Erin puts big ideas into little sentences and uses her words to connect people to one another. As a Boston University alumni who has worked in Advertising all around the world (most recently London), she's written for various music publications, managed social media programs and collaborated on creative strategies. When she isn't totally engulfed in creative brainstorms, Erin practices yoga and paints.