Healthy Skepticism: Mental Health in the Age of Social Media
It’s safe to say that we are officially living in the age of social media. Unlike previous generations, we have the privilege of understanding our world through straightforward, easily accessible content.
As a psychotherapist, counselor, and regular consumer of social media content, I've observed many positive aspects of the growing focus on mental health— the most exciting of which is our opportunity to talk about our struggles without fear of judgement.
We no longer feel so alone. What a powerful and meaningful thing to witness.
But nothing so novel comes without its caveats. We are still learning how to navigate the ins and outs of this new world. The amount of information available to us can be conflicting and confusing. It's natural that in the face of such overwhelm, we may make a habit of relying upon only a few sources.
This is alarming for a number of reasons. One of the most concerning issues is the potentially detrimental reliance upon tips and tricks for self-improvement that aren’t based on the research. At times, this information can be unfounded and even misguiding.
One of the most alarming issues is our tendency to rely upon flashy, exciting, but generally unexamined findings. For example, only a few years ago popular social media platforms started to promote the idea that juice cleanses and/or detoxes were key to emotional wellness (e.g., https://dailyjuicecafe.com/blogs/blog/cleansing-for-emotional-wellness).
Unfortunately, the research failed support this popular notion (Bratman, & Knight, 2004; Musolino, Warin, Wade, & Gilchrist, 2015). A quick search on Google Scholar demonstrates an overall lack of evidence, and even highlights the association between detoxes and eating disorders such as anorexia and orthorexia, a relatively new term coined to capture our current, alarming obsession with healthy eating (Bóna, Forgács, & Túry, 2018; Moroze, Dunn, Holland, Yager, & Weintraub, 2015).
So, what do we do?
One solution to this problem is learning to become careful consumers of content related to mental health. It is incredibly important that we exercise a healthy degree of skepticism as we are faced with an unprecedented amount suggestions, often presented as facts, for maintaining and improving our emotional health.
Remember, no matter how exciting ideas presented by individuals and online platforms with large followings are: One or two studies, conducted with a small number of individuals, do not provide ample evidence of the benefits of various methods to improving our mental health.
Multiple studies, using a large number of diverse participants, must produce similar outcomes in order to arrive at meaningful conclusions.
Fortunately, we don’t need need to be scientists or researchers to become careful consumers of information. We are fortunate to have the internet at our fingertips, and with a little bit of digging, we can find a balanced, informed perspective. So, let's take advantage of it!
Keep in mind, however, that just because the research may not support the notion— it doesn’t mean you can’t follow the tips and tricks that you personally benefit from! It’s all about taking everything with a grain of salt as we continue our journey towards improving our quality of life.
-Morgynn Haner, Ph.D
Dr. Morgynn Haner obtained her Ph.D in counseling psychology from the University of Texas at Austin. She is a psychotherapist with an extensive research background.