Millennials and Generation Z are said to be the generations of social media, growing up glued to our screens and obsessed with portraying the perfect life for others to look at. But we are also the generations which are highly aware of social issues and striving to make a difference. Advocating for mental health is a HUGE focus on social media. Isn’t it ironic that the platform we use to educate and start conversations about mental health is also the thing that hinders it?! Studies say that social media can affect self-esteem, contribute to anxiety and depression, and even reduce productivity and sleep. So is there a way to change how we use social media to make our feeds a nicer place to scroll through and to impact us in a positive way?
In the last few years, there has been a rise in the amount of accounts that create a positive attitude around mental health. Creatives like illustrators and graphic designers are using their art to post positive reminders and daily affirmations for their followers’ feeds. These accounts do more than just advocate for mental health; they break down the stigma surrounding mental health. They post about therapy and what it is actually like as well as the real quirks of living with a mental illness.
I spoke with three amazing women who run the positive mental health accounts Laura Jane Illustrations, EmpowerPuff Gurl and Haley Drew This, asking for their own views and experiences with Instagram and mental health advocacy.
Laura Jones started a lifestyle and beauty blog in 2015 but began to feel frustrated with her content. She said, “I didn’t enjoy creating that content anymore and I realised I didn’t enjoy using social media anymore. So, I decided to create the kind of content I wished was in my feed, positive and uplifting but also real and honest.” Last year, she created Laura Jane Illustrations and Hello Happee, a positive online space which explores topics like mental health awareness, feminism, equality and being a teen in a media driven world.
“Social media in general has become a bit of a highlight reel or peoples’ best moments; Instagram especially is over-saturated with images that are edited versions of reality. Yes, these images are beautifully staged and fabulously curated, but it’s so easy to fall into the trap of comparing our lives and current situations to that of these beautiful edited realities. I hope that my content makes people feel less alone and also helps them realise that social media has the power and potential to do great things and spread good messages,” Laura said.
Laura Fraser is a Guidance Counsellor by day and EmpowerPuff Gurl by night. She started her Instagram as a way to share the books she was reading with her friends and family and it grew from there. In her profession, it has always been important to her to make sure mental health is spoken about openly with her students.
“There certainly can be a lot of negativity on Instagram but that being said, Instagram can also be such a force for good. I’m so proud of creating a community of followers who are supportive of each other and know that they can visit my page or watch my stories for a reminder of just how powerful they are. We spend so much time on our phones. Why wouldn’t we create a space on this app where we can feel empowered, cheer each other on and work on our self-love together?”
Haley Weaver started uploading illustrations to Haley Drew This that were inspired by her everyday life – getting a pimple, going to work, etc. When Haley started to notice that watching other peoples’ successes, vacations and beautiful clothing made her feel inferior, she sought out accounts she actually wanted to see. “It changed the way I interacted with social media — instead of feeling drained and small, I felt inspired and informed.”
Haley said, “I think my content comes from a very honest, emotionally vulnerable place. I’m not trying to impress people. I’m certainly not lying about how I feel. I’m open about struggling with anxiety and feeling sad/lonely/scared. My Instagram is a little bit like a very public journal, but it’s helped me navigate my own emotions — and the fact that it has positively affected others is truly incredible.”
Medical professionals and therapists have also started to become more active on Instagram, sharing coping techniques and insider knowledge about mental health. For many, going to therapy can be a scary and daunting concept. I’d say following therapy accounts that you like and you relate to is sort of like dipping your toe into the deep, deep ocean of therapy.
Counsellor and psychotherapist, Sara Kuburić, started her account the Millennial Therapist to help de-stigmatise mental health and show people that they are not alone. There has been a lot of ethical controversy surrounding therapists on social media. Sara believes that as long as therapists are clear Instagram is not therapy, don’t use it as therapy and aware of their ethical and legal obligations, social media can be used as a wonderful tool. It can start line of communication, makes therapists more approachable and make information more accessible.
“I wanted to provide some education and information that can get people curious about their own mental health and empower them to seek change, healing and growth. There is a lot of toxic content out there that promotes a culture of documentation, comparison, and sells an illusion of ‘perfection.’ That being said, Instagram also is a space for content that can promote a sense of community, information, and encouragement. It boils down to the boundaries we have set regarding what is on our feeds and being aware enough that if something is hindering our mental health or self-esteem, we can distance ourselves from it. The best way to benefit from my posts is to engage with the content critically, and allow it to stimulate thoughts, questions, and reflections. It’s also important to note that not everything will resonate and that the content provided is general and not meant to speak to specific situations. IG is not therapy and is not meant to replace therapy.”
These inspiring women and their accounts work towards the same goal: creating a realistic, positive and educational outlook towards mental health and life in general. A common theme they all talked about was the fact that a user can control what they see and what they don’t see. It seems like such a simple statement but follow accounts that inspire you and make you feel great about yourself! Have a clean out and unfollow accounts that don’t make you feel good or that you just don’t enjoy their content anymore. Follow accounts about what you are passionate about; whether that’s mental health, body positivity, social justice or just cute dog accounts. Being proactive about your feed and what is on it can be the first step to creating a nicer environment for you to look at every day!
A big thank you to Laura Jones, Laura Fraser, Haley Weaver and Sara Kuburić for taking time to contribute to this article and working tirelessly to make Instagram a better and more accepting place to be. If you want some beautiful and inspiring content on your feed, give them all a follow!
Banner image by: Natalie Franke
Note: Instagram in no way REPLACES therapy. Therapy can be scary, but therapy is also wonderful and can be extremely beneficial. If you’re struggling with your mental health, do your research, talk to your doctor and see if therapy would be a good fit for you.