November 14, 2019

As millions of teenagers and young adults turn to social media for communications, entertainment and influence, studies are working together to prove that these apps could be affecting mental health.

A national survey by the University of Pittsburgh‘s Center for Research on Media, Technology and Health found that “use of multiple social media platforms is strongly associated with depression and anxiety in regards to body image in young adults and teens.”

February 18-28 marked the annual National Eating Disorder Awareness Week/ Love Your Body Week — an awareness event dedicated to promoting a positive body image and awareness. Many celebrities and social media influencers opened up about their own struggles with body image and mental health on social media.

“Society is in a very vulnerable situation right now with social media and body image,” said Ashlee Jowett, a professor at Conestoga College in Kitchener, Ont., who teaches concepts of gender. “We are exposed to unrealistic body images every day when scrolling through our social media feeds. Filters are commonly used to alter body image, making it an unrealistic and extremely deceiving image for young viewers.”

“From my experience with the people I have worked with in my office, social media has both positive and negative effects,” said Sherry Maxwell, a psychotherapist in Cambridge, Ont. “On the positive, it can keep people connected who might otherwise not be able to stay connected, such as family and friends who live a distance away. From a negative perspective, it promotes an unrealistic view of society and the lives people are living.  After all, most postings are about how well things are going, not about what’s not going well.  They don’t post the fight a person just had with their partner or that they’re depressed and lonely.

“At times it can lead to feelings of depression, as a person compares what they know their lives to be to those that they see posted on social media.  Social media lives aren’t always real;  they’re a portion of the person’s life that they want to have revealed to the world,” said Maxwell.

Online resources are recommended to those struggling with body image and eating disorder awareness. Popular sites include Already Pretty, Body Bliss Central, Luvin’ My Curves, and Garner Style. All provide resources to help spread awareness and show support.

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