Psychologist prescribes social media antidote


By Shayma Abdellatif

Social media connection

While self-isolation is vital for flattening the COVID-19 curve, the lack of social interactions can have devastating consequences on our wellbeing and mental health.

The uncertainty that clouds our lives is causing stress for almost everyone, however, psychologist Dr Harley Watson says social media offers an antidote to relieve some of this anxiety and ensure our mental wellbeing.

“The biggest thing is to remember that you’re not alone in this. Everyone else is experiencing this too,” she says.

Dr Watson is a clinical psychologist and the CEO of Open Parachute, an online school health program that raises awareness about mental health among teenagers and aims to reduce bullying in school.

Social media is the reality of this generation and Dr Watson says we need to find ways to take advantage of what it offers. The key to interacting online is whether the experience is having a positive or a negative outcome on our wellbeing. Having a network of support, especially for young people, where they can have intimate conversations about their emotions and struggles, is now more important than ever.

“Reaching out online and staying connected to their friends and using social media to connect with them is really important for their mental health right now,” says Dr Watson.

Being online often may also mean being exposed to content that lowers self-esteem and confidence. In order to avoid this, Dr Watson advises social media users to interact with friends in small private networks instead of sharing personal feelings and content publicly.

“When we share something with the whole world, we lose that personal feedback and personal interaction, and we open ourselves to any type of response including online bullying,” she says.

When asked about online challenges that appeared in the past months during Covid-19, Dr Watson says participating is fine if it helps young people cope with the crisis. Creating a sense of community support and knowing that everyone is going through similar struggles is equally important, she says.  However, she adds that every person needs to constantly reflect on any online interaction, and use their judgment to determine whether that’s beneficial or counter-productive.

“Ultimately, we want the online world to connect us not separate us,” she says.

In a Snapchat survey, 66 percent of Snapchatters said that communicating with friends and family online has helped them cope with the situation. It has allowed them to still enjoy some quality time despite the COVID-19 restrictions. More than 71 percent said they have become more aware of how to stay safe, through the platform, since the beginning of the crisis.

Many social media platforms are playing an increasing role in providing information about ways to stay safe during COVID-19.  General Manager for Snapchat Inc. Kathryn Carter, said recently the social media site is collaborating with local and international health experts to increase awareness about health among its users.

“Content on our Discover platform is curated and moderated, and we work closely with only a select set of partners, including some of the most trusted news organizations around the world, to develop fact-based content for our community,” Carter said in a media release.

In partnership with the World Health Organisation (WHO), Snapchat launched a series of filters and Bitmojis with information about hygiene and self-isolation, as well as links to local mental health support services.

If you need mental health support services contact any of the following:

This story was first published by W’SUP, the student publication of WSU