Do Apps Like Instagram Hurt or Help Mental Health among Latinos?

*What do you think? A pop-up that warns you when you’ve been on social media too long? VL


By Eric Moreno, Salud Today (4.5 minute read)  

So many people share their lives on social media every day.

Instagram has 500 million active monthly users worldwide, including 1 in 3 Latinos. Facebook has nearly 2 billion active monthly users.

Latino young adults on phone mobile social mediaBut questions remain about how social networks impact users’ mental health.

For example, CNN posted this week: “Instagram worst social media app for young people’s mental health.”

The article cites a survey of 1,500 young people on how social media platforms impact their health, depression, anxiety, self-esteem and body image. The survey indicated Instagram negatively affected body image, sleep patterns, and “FOMO”—the fear of missing out.

“Platforms that are supposed to help young people connect with each other may actually be fueling a mental health crisis,” Shirley Cramer of the group behind the survey, told CNN.

Conversely, earlier this month Huffington Post published: “Instagram’s New Mental Health Campaign Is Just What Our Phones Need.”

This article cited the platform’s #HereForYou campaign to boost the conversation around mental health by asking people to share their own photos along with their experiences with conditions like anxiety or eating disorders.

“This campaign can put you in touch with millions of people all over the world with the touch of a button,” Elyse Fox, one of the advocates featured in the campaign’s video, told Huff Post. “You never know how your story can affect someone in a positive way or make them feel like they’re not alone.”

Latinos, Social Media, and Mental Health

Latinos, blacks, and whites equally use social media networks, according to Pew Research.

latino social media presence 2015 PewBut each group prefers certain networks.

Latinos were more likely than whites to use Facebook (73% to 71%), Instagram (34% to 21%) and Twitter (25% to 21%).

Blacks were more likely than whites to use Instagram and Twitter.

“Because platforms like Instagram and Facebook present highly curated versions of the people we know and the world around us. It is easy for our perspective of reality to become distorted,” YouTube professional Laci Green told CNN. “Socializing from behind a screen can also be uniquely isolating, obscuring mental health challenges even more than usual.”

About 16% of all Latino adults experienced a mental illness during the previous year.

On average, young adult Latinas born in the U.S. have higher rates of depression and suicide attempts than non-Latinas, a study found.

Latinos are also less likely to access mental and behavioral health care resources, especially children and young adults.

The impact of social media on this situation is complex.

As described in the CNN article, Instagram draws young women to “compare themselves against unrealistic, largely curated, filtered and Photoshopped versions of reality.”

“Instagram easily makes girls and women feel as if their bodies aren’t good enough as people add filters and edit their pictures in order for them to look ‘perfect,’” an anonymous female respondent said in the report, according to CNN.

Yet it is dangerous to blame the medium for the message.

“We need to teach children how to cope with all aspects of social media — good and bad — to prepare them for an increasingly digitized world,” Sir Simon Wessely, president of the UK’s Royal College of Psychiatrists, told CNN.

What To Do?

Specifically with social media, CNN says researchers suggest a pop-up warning to alert users that they have been online for too long.

They also urge networks to add a warning on images that have been digitally manipulated.

“We’re not asking these platforms to ban Photoshop or filters but rather to let people know when images have been altered so that users don’t take the images on face value as real,” Matt Keracher of Royal Society for Public Health in the UK told CNN.

“We really want to equip young people with the tools and the knowledge to be able to navigate social media platforms not only in a positive way but in a way that promotes good mental health.”

Removing the stigma associated with mental health conditions is another step in helping Latinos achieve better mental health.

The Consejo Project, part of the Department of Social Work Education at California State University, Fresno (Fresno State), trains social work students to serve Spanish-speaking children, teenagers, and youths and examine and work through the systemic barriers that limit the access of Latinos to mental and substance abuse services in the San Joaquin Valley.

Here are some other ways that Salud Today has covered this issue:

In the end, as Huff Post writes, the message is more important than the medium.

Getting people to talk is vital.

“If you aren’t dealing with [a mental health issue] there’s a chance you know someone who is,” Elyse Fox told Huff Post. “I just want everyone to be more open and accepting to other people’s feelings. This campaign is definitely a step in normalizing that conversation.”

This article was originally published in Salud Today.

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