Charles Benayon

Founder & CEO of Aspiria


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The Next Fix: Social Media And Addiction

smartphone-2123520_1920In the previous blog, I discussed how social media carries the potential to warp your self-perception. In this blog, I’ll address one of the additional dangers that social media platforms such as Instagram, Snapchat, and Facebook can pose to your mental health: addiction.

Digital addiction is a relatively new concern in the mental health community. Since the popularization of social media apps, many people have become increasingly reliant on these digital platforms. Although social media offers several advantages in terms of communication and connection, its use can become problematic if it takes priority over the rest of your daily activities.

I’ve seen many people become reliant on social media platforms as a form of self-assurance, or even as a form of escapism or procrastination. Here are some of the signs of social media addiction, and what you can do to help yourself, or someone you care about.

The signs and symptoms

Social media addiction to Instagram, Snapchat, and Facebook can be difficult to identify, and should be diagnosed by a medical professional. However, there are signs to be aware of when evaluating your social media habits. Some of these signs include:

  • Constant thinking or planning of posts for social media
  • Increasing frequency of use
  • Use of social media to escape personal issues or emotional stress
  • Preference to communicate with others by social media or text rather than in-person when it is appropriate to do so
  • Feeling restless or anxious when you can’t engage on social platforms
  • A negative impact on your personal or professional life as a result of social media use
  • Reduced contact with people in immediate social situations (i.e. a preference to be on your phone (on social media, texting, gaming) instead of engaging with and/or focusing on the person  that you are with)
  • Checking your social media at inappropriate or dangerous times (e.g. while driving, going downstairs, or during important meetings)

Although these symptoms may not be a hard and fast indication of an addiction, they can be considered potential warning signs. Has anyone ever commented on your persistent social media usage in class? Have you had trouble concentrating in a meeting because you’ve been thinking about checking your social media? These could be potential red flags.

If not treated, the long-term effects of social media addiction may include depression, emotional and societal withdrawal, self-esteem issues, anxiety, difficulty sleeping, and in extreme cases, suicidal thoughts. If you suspect that you, or someone you care about, are experiencing several of the above symptoms, contact your SAP or EAP immediately.

How to treat social media addiction

Unlike many addictions (e.g. drug or alcohol addiction), social media addiction is best treated with reduced and controlled use, as opposed to abstinence. Even some of the major social media companies, such as Facebook, are now using behavioural data to determine what major social media platforms can do to limit their products to those who are experiencing a potential addiction. Although this measurement is controversial, this is a strategy that has been applied by the online gaming industry, with some valuable results.

In addition to cognitive behavioural therapy and other forms of support, recovery from social media addiction may require additional efforts on your part. These efforts may include:

  • Deleting social media on your phone and limiting your access to it
  • Having supportive friends and family members to help you stay accountable
  • Establishing a routine that does not revolve around, or include, social media usage
  • Discovering your triggers for social media use (e.g. boredom, sadness), and developing coping strategies for when they arise
  • Spending more time with family and friends face-to-face

A social media addiction can feel difficult to overcome, but with help from your Employee or Student Assistance Program, as well as support from loved ones, you can achieve a healthier, more positive relationship with the digital world.


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Keeping Up Appearances: Social Media And Self-Perception

media-998990_1920Social media has been one of the world’s most amazing advancements in communication and social integration. In over two decades, social media has evolved to create an experience for users that allows them to stay in touch and share special moments on a unique platform. However, social media has developed a dangerous side, particularly in terms of users’ mental health.

I’ve often marvelled at how far we’ve come with technology, but at the same time, I’ve witnessed the toll that some social media apps can take on a person’s wellbeing. An increase in depression, anxiety, and body image issues has been attributed to prolonged or excessive social media use, including apps such as Instagram and Snapchat. But what are the exact risks that social media can pose to your mental health? And what can we do to give social media a more positive purpose?

A warped perception

 With the popularization of the “selfie,” some social media users can become enchanted by the idea of perfection. This has led to the development of several social media tools, such as filters, that enhance the overall appearance of a photo and decrease any perceivable “flaws” (e.g. blemishes, wrinkles, etc.) This creates a warped perception of a person’s self-image, leaving some people feeling out of touch with their own appearance, or with their life overall.

In extreme cases, some social media users have had their faces surgically altered to create the exact look that they can only achieve through filters and other photo editing tools.

The rise of photo editing

 The use of photo editing has occasionally been deemed controversial, especially in recent years. With many celebrities calling out publications for digitally retouching photos, there has been concern that many of these tools can further distort self-image, which may have a direct impact on mental health.

Social media apps have now integrated several user-friendly photo-editing tools, including Facetune, Snapseed, and Adobe Photoshop Express. These tools allow you to not just enhance your photos: they allow you to change facial features, skin texture and tone, and even skin colour.

Perception, reality, and addiction

 Aside from issues relating to body image and physical appearance, social media can be highly addictive. You may find yourself frequently checking Instagram, Snapchat, or Facebook to see what other users are up to, but constant use or comparison can lead to a decreased sense of wellbeing.

Although some users may seem to have the perfect life on social media, the reality is often significantly different from what is portrayed online. The resulting comparisons, both from the user posting and from the users viewing the posts, can manifest in stress, anxiety, and obsession. The need to keep up appearances and comparisons may make some users ignore triggers, such as jealousy or shame, that inspire the necessary steps towards self-healing.

The good news

 We don’t always need to focus on the negative. Social media has facilitated a lot of positive changes in the way we stay in touch with our loved ones, communicate our unique ideas, and even market our personal brands. It helps us connect with people that we may not have had the opportunity to meet in the “real world”, and provides a wealth of information that can be shared with the touch of a button. If used for positive means, social media can enhance your life and expand your horizons.

For the most part (unless your job requires social media usage), it’s important to moderate your engagement. Limit the time that you spend per day on social apps, and work towards creating a positive attitude towards your own self-image. Remember that a lot of what’s happening in another person’s life is not necessarily posted on social. Working to maintain your own wellbeing, instead comparing yourself to others, will transform social media into a method of sharing your life in a more meaningful way.

Though it comes with its challenges, social media can be an incredibly powerful and positive tool. If you require guidance on how to better monitor your mental health and wellbeing while working with social media, don’t hesitate to contact your Employee or Student Assistance Program.


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Is Social Media Affecting Your Mental Health?

media-998990_640For work or play, social media has become a strong part of our lives, and it is here to stay. Social media allows us to be continuously connected with family, friends and the pulse of business, even while we are busy doing other things! Social media helps us find jobs, events, lets us know what our friends and families are up to, and it links us to news that is happening not only in our community, but literally around the world. Despite social media policies and your organization’s attempts to manage your employees’ use of social media at work, constantly checking in with social media on a regular basis has become the norm in most offices, instead of the exception.

Allowing your employees to access their social sites results in happier employees, which in turn results in increased productivity and retention – but it can also result in anxiety, depression, and overall poor mental health.

Studies have found that Facebook and other social media platforms can negatively affect a user’s mental health. Facebook’s former vice-president for user growth has stated that the platform is slowly destroying how society works by creating short-term dopamine (reward-motivated behaviours). One study discovered that technology is not only addictive, but it can have mental health consequences such as depression, stress and sleep disorder.

Whether they are using it for fun or for business, it is your responsibility to inform your employees that too much social media can have a negative impact on their mental health. So how do we support an employee’s need to interact with social media without jeopardizing their productivity? Below I’ve outlined a few tips to help you help your employees better navigate social media at work and beyond.

Unplug. Researchers have found that unplugging from social media gives your brain the time it needs to recharge before starting a new day. Create a team or individual challenge for your employees by asking them to unplug for a morning, a workday, or 24 hours. You can then regroup with your team and elicit feedback as to the changes they noticed in themselves while being unplugged. If your staff generally comments about not sleeping well, feeling depressed, or just stressed out, give them this challenge to try and see how much better they feel.

Limit usage time. Like distracted driving, engaging in social media throughout the day can also be a distraction from focussing on work. While it is difficult to “police” employees’ connectedness with their personal social media, you can suggest reducing social connection time to breaks and lunch hours only. In fact, inviting staff to use their social media at work judiciously may lead to better trust, honesty, and general happiness among staff, resulting in better mental health.

Personal Connection. Encourage more face-to-face time for your staff. This is not a meeting; rather, it could be a luncheon, a learning session or potluck. These are great ways to build team connections, collaboration, sharing and positively increase the mental health of your team. You can also encourage staff to interact with posts about team promotions beyond a simple “like”. Send them a private message or leave a comment on the post, as being an active user can better your mental health.

While social media is absolutely a powerful tool, like everything else in life, technology should be used in moderation to prevent it from creating or exacerbating mental health problems.

I hope these tips will help guide you on a new path to better mental health for your employees Remember, interacting on social media, limiting time on the platforms, and focusing on encouraging personal connections will positively affect your mental health. What have you done to limit social media time in your workplace?


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#MentalHealth

Blue Monday, which occurs on the 3rd Monday of January, is often publicized online and in the news as the most depressing day of the year. While scientific evidence has proven this is not true, this term continues to trend on social media every January and contributes to the conversation around mental health awareness. January is also home to Bell Media’s popular mental health awareness campaign #BellLetsTalk, where Bell contributes proceeds from every #BellLetsTalk hashtag used in text messages or on social media on that day to support mental health organizations.

With all of these social media initiatives contributing to the conversation around mental health, I am amazed at how far we have come. There was a time when people were encouraged to hide their mental illness from the world, due to stigma and shame. Now, there are hundreds of online support communities that want people to share their mental health stories and show them they are not alone. Social media has truly changed the way we look at mental health.

In 2018, it is expected that 20 million Canadians will have at least one social media account to connect with the world around them, share news, and stay in touch with friends. Social media also provides us with a sense of community. People suffering with their mental health often describe being stigmatized by their illness and have trouble speaking out about it at school or work. The mental health community on social media has given people an opportunity to contribute to mental health awareness by giving them a voice. People can now search a hashtag like, #TalkAboutIt on Twitter or search mental heath support groups on Facebook and find like-minded individuals who are experiencing the same things they are. The ability to connect with others through social media is an incredible thing.

Regular people dealing with mental health challenges aren’t the only ones speaking up. Social media gives us access to celebrities and influencers like never before. It should come as no surprise that celebrities, just like us, suffer from mental health issues or know some who does. A lot of popular celebrities have come forward via social media in recent years to speak about their mental health and support others who are dealing with mental health challenges of their own. Well-known public figures such as Carrie Fisher, Lady Gaga and Ryan Reynolds have used their social platforms to help reduce the stigma around mental illness. Seeing this kind of support and acceptance from a huge celebrity can truly make a difference to someone who is dealing with their own mental health challenges.

Mental health organizations are also now using social media to help them implement campaigns around mental health awareness. Organizations like CAMH and The Canadian Mental Health Association have utilized social media to show followers what they’re working on and the impact their organization has on mental health. People dealing with mental health issues are now a lot more aware of the services that these organizations provide, and have the ability to connect with them more efficiently than ever before.

That being said, I know there is a dark side to social media use as well. Issues like cyber bullying continue to plague these social networks, and can end up creating mental health challenges instead of assisting them. That’s why I think it’s so important to practice the kinds of values that are promoted on these trending days, like acceptance and understanding, year round.

With 30 years of experience in the mental health field, seeing the outpour of support that comes through on social media on days like #BellLetsTalk or #WorldMentalHealthDay is amazing. While I don’t love every aspect of social media, I do love the mental health community that has emerged as a result of it.


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Part 1 of 3: Today’s Post-Secondary School Student

o-MULTITASKING-facebookStudents entering college or university several decades ago lived a very different experience than today’s student: They used landlines, hand-wrote their essays and researched topics using only library books and encyclopedias. Today’s university student is a millennial, born between 1980 and 1994, and while this student benefits from smaller cellphones and Internet access, they embody a host of generation-specific difficulties when adapting to post-secondary education, most notably, mental health issues.

So what does today’s university and college student look like?

“Helicopter” Parents: The average student often comes from a very supportive familial unit, where parents are very involved with their child’s life, including their extra-curricular activities, academics and social calendar. Sometimes, this involvement leads to underdeveloped coping and problem-solving skills in children, because they learn that their parents want to protect them from difficulty or discomfort. This can result in university-aged students who have trouble managing stress and conflict when they experience the independent lifestyle of post-secondary education.

 Academic Pressures: Striving for individuality and well roundedness has become the goal for this generation, with a huge emphasis being placed on academic success. With this cultural pressure, a lack of consistency exists between school boards when it comes to grading and measurement of knowledge. Studies have found that students come into university or college with inflated high school grades, which can negatively affect self-esteem when entering post-secondary schooling where students are not earning the kind of grades they are used to.

Financial Stress: With the growing cultural expectation that you MUST have a degree in order to get a good job, many families cannot afford to put all of their post-secondary-bound children through school without help. Tuition rates are rising along with the cost of living, and many students rely on government funding to put themselves through school. And once students have graduated and have their degree in hand, they are left with monumental student debt and often limited job prospects.

Technology and Social Media savvy: Millennials are the most technologically connected of the generations, keeping in touch with friends and relatives all-too-easily through various social venues like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. This constant barrage of information can lead to social anxiety and the idea that “everyone else is smarter, more successful, and has more friends than me”. With technology and mobile addiction on the rise, students are not developing vital interpersonal skills the way they have in the past, which can lead to feelings of social isolation – ironic when these are the same students with hundreds of Facebook Friends!

Today’s university and college student is bright, ambitious and well-connected and their unique challenges differ greatly from generations past. Part 2 of this series will discuss the need for change and implementation of more comprehensive support for this greatly underserviced demographic. With college and university student suicide rates on the rise in past years, mental health and mental illness need to be made a top priority. After reading this blog, do you notice any other characteristics that today’s post-secondary student embodies? I look forward to your comments below.

Sources:

http://www.collegequarterly.ca/2013-vol16-num01-winter/flatt.html

http://globalnews.ca/news/548478/young-minds-millennials-facing-increased-rates-of-stress-compared-to-other-generations/