- Social media is playing a role in rise of depression and self-harming among younger women
A leading UAE psychologist is urging young women in the UAE to be wary of social media content that focuses on unrealistic standards and expectations of body image, eating and exercising. This is in light of a new report which has identified a significant rise in the number of women aged 16-24 experiencing mental health difficulties.
The report by UK-based NHS Digital found that 26% of young women in this age group were suffering from mental health issues, which is more than three times the rate for men of the same age at 9%. The report suggests that the rise in angst and depression is due to ‘social media ubiquity’ and says the lower figure for males could simply be down to a tendency by men to bottle things up rather than discuss mental health issues as openly as their female counterparts.
Nadia Brooker, Counselling Psychologist at the Priory Wellbeing Centre in Dubai, says: “This age-group – the “touch-screen” generation – is significantly influenced by the internet and social media in particular, which often impacts multiple aspects of their day-to-day lives. As a result, they are constantly exposed to images of idealised beauty and unrealistic standards, greatly affecting how they see themselves. This creates a breeding ground for unhealthy and negative comparisons and can lead to an increase in body dissatisfaction, depression, low self-esteem and a tendency to self-harm.
“Women in particular are more likely to have body dissatisfaction, with a tendency to worry about their weight and shape. They are far more inclined to follow specific ‘influencers’ and use apps that present a ‘perfect’, yet completely distorted, view of the world. This helps explain why we are seeing an increase in those seeking help for associated mental health issues at our centre here in Dubai, including eating disorders, stress and self-harming.”
“Digitally enhancing images prior to posting online is now commonplace, as is the compulsion to constantly count ‘likes’ and ‘followers’. Worryingly, social media is often the first port of call when seeking validation or inviting judgement. This is a dangerous road to go down as it can reinforce existing negative feelings they may already have about themselves.”
According to Nadia, modern society puts immense pressure on young women to ‘have it all’ as far as academic success, career, social life, appearance and family and friends are concerned. She is urging this particular age-group to take a step back and reduce their social media consumption.
“It’s vital that young women in their teens are made fully aware of the ‘dark side’ to social media and its potential consequences, and turn instead to body-positive media,” she says. “It would be helpful if schools and colleges in particular could promote positive body image through education and awareness. Only by following more positive accounts, and by staying away from social media that focuses on unrealistic standards and expectations of body image, eating and exercising, will they understand that nobody is perfect.”
Nadia also points out that although fewer young men are contacting the centre to access help for mental health issues, this could be due to a reticence to seek professional help. Men are more inclined to suffer in silence because of the stigma that still surrounds mental ill health. For example, eating disorders are still often regarded as ‘female illnesses’ and yet it’s directly because of this misconception that men are at a higher risk of dying from them than women.
Nadia recommends the following coping strategies to help prevent social media from gaining a negative hold on you:
- Notice the positives in yourself every day – we can easily get caught up in the things we’re unhappy with or think we should improve on, and often forget the things we have achieved or enjoyed.
- Be critical of the media that you see and be careful of false comparisons.
- Connection – surround yourself with people who support you and make you feel good about yourself.
- Ensure you eat a well-balanced diet, engage in healthy physical activity, and get enough sleep.
- Mindfulness – build your awareness of yourself and your environment and practice engaging in the present moment, non-judgmentally.