Last month consulting an online magazine for work, a title caught my attention: Instagram, teenagers and mental health (https://www.filodiritto.com/instagram-adolescenti-e-health-mental). I read the opening: “Instagram is harmful to the mental health of young people, especially girls”. I jump. But what are they talking about?
I keep reading: “Girls and boys – and not only – are bombarded by images of physical perfection and personal success, which exponentially increase insecurity, distrust and discomfort towards themselves. The psychological disorders that arise are as obvious as alarming: ranging from eating disorders to suicidal thoughts (with very high percentages between young Americans and British, subject of Facebook studies). A fact to highlight – more positive than negative, in reality – is that the young people themselves realize the link between their malaise and Instagram.”
More and more curious, I wonder where they want to go with this. There’s something that doesn’t add up. My perplexity is not so much about the use of social media that can contribute to amplifying a malaise, but it seems to me that they are almost claiming that a social media itself can cause a mental illness. Puzzled, I also browse the links within the article.
It all starts with a survey of the «Wall Street Journal» of 14 September 2021, which published the results of a research commissioned by Facebook, reported, among others, by an article published in Il Sole 24 ore on-line (https://www.ilsole24ore.com/art/instagram-anddangerous-la-salute-mentale-girzze-e-facebook-sa-AEtfIyi?refresh_ce=1). It mentions the case of a teenager, Anastasia, who “has developed an eating disorder and has clear ideas about what has led her to be in those conditions: her time on Instagram.”. In some of the slides of the study conducted by Facebook, is indicated that “32% of teenage girls said that when they felt bad for their bodies, Instagram made them feel worse” and that “Teenagers blame Instagram for the rising rates of anxiety and depression. This reaction was spontaneous and consistent in all groups”. It is explained that this awareness would even have generated in some of the interviewed teenagers, with suicidal thoughts, “the desire to kill themselves on Instagram.”.
I jump again. The “desire” to kill oneself? First, I don’t like the terms used to report this study: would a suicidal thought be a “desire”? without demanding to go into medical speeches, as an ordinary person, perhaps I would say that it is a very serious alarm of something wrong that is behind that thought… But let’s go on: Anastasia would have “clear ideas” because she leads her food pathology back to her time on Instagram? Are you kidding me? Again as an ordinary person, it seems to me that Anastasia and those who follow her have very confused ideas instead : perhaps it is the opposite, maybe if you can’t escape the model of perfection proposed by the media of the moment or you cannot manage the dynamics of relationships with peers, on social media or elsewhere, to evade if it becomes violent, if you “fall into the net” whatever it is, the network is an amplifier instrument, it is certainly not the reason why you fall.
Back to the article on Filodiritto, which in order to give a less catastrophic view of the phenomenon of the use of social media, quotes an article published on the website of the Meyer University Hospital in Florence (https://www.meyer.it/index.php/newsletter/marzo-2020/3791-dispositivi-digitali-non-e-detto-che-meno-sia-meglio), where the emphasis is on the classic: parents cannot leave their children alone in the use of technologies. Here it is even proposed a very useful behavioural vademecum, to conclude that “the key word for parents and also for teachers and operators who interact with girls and boys is to educate, following the same principles that are the basis of a healthy growth and civil coexistence both offline and online”.
Although a little heartened by American lies, and not only, on mental illnesses caused by social (and Instagram in particular), I wonder though: is it really just a behavioural issue? Is it really enough to follow a vademecum of rules for behaviour and common sense? Are the key words really just “educating” and “civil coexistence”?
Necessary, useful, but do we want to try to say it better, with other words? Shall we try to say that the key word is the interhuman relationship? Would it be to follow children and adolescents in their search for identity, to be present not (only) physically, to “listen to” their requests for relationship or help, to “answer” their silent and hidden questions, and thus to confirm that they are intelligent, that they can understand and distinguish, that they can reject and evade violent dynamics, wherever they are, even on social media? And don’t we want to try to say that when the boys get to that level of suffering, to that anguish that goes beyond the normal and also beautiful yearning and upheaval that every teen or pre-adolescent lives daily, if they are on the edge or have already crossed it, if we throw “blame” on social media we have failed and we condemn them to have no hope of getting out?
Because just to deactivate the account is not enough to heal. You need to look for help and find who can answer. Do we want to help them know this? Or do we keep filling them with lies?
Thanks to Chiara Fanasca for the translation of this article