Paying Mental Wellness Forward

Illustration by Chloe Kramer

Raising children is hard enough, and today’s socially fueled world has added a whole new kind of complexity, one that is riddled with mental health issues. One could say that mental health has always been a challenge in society; however, if you do the research, the impact of a decade of social media on mental health is mind-blowing. Just like social media manifests outwardly in the form of instantaneous acceptance (in the form of “likes”), it can also manifest inwardly in the form of low self-esteem. The Mental Health Foundation in the United Kingdom suggests that social media can lead a person to compare their life unfavorably with other people’s lives as well as use others’ posts to measure success and failure in their own life. The impact of this can be catastrophic feelings of low self-esteem resulting in negative “I am” statements, such as “I am never going to be able to be like that person” or “I am never going to be able to do that.” Low self-esteem is not the only negative result of the high level of social media use. Psychologist Dr. Paula Durlofsky, in a study that looked at how best to establish a healthy balance between real-time relationships and virtual connections, demonstrated a correlation between social media use and depression (https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/blog/social-media-and-young-peoples-mental-health).

The mental health challenge

The “10 ways social media affects our mental health” showcases both the negative effects (more prominently) and some of the positive benefits of social media (http://blog.degreed.com/10-ways-social-media-affects-our-mental-health/).

As we parent our kids in this uncharted territory, we need to consider the lasting impression as well as the effects that social media can have on them both externally and, more importantly, internally. We can’t pretend this challenge doesn’t exist; we need to actively do something about it so that we can help prepare our children for a healthy future. Part of this preparation is through helping them build their inner strength and self-esteem, so that they can deal with virtual and real social pressures, live independently, and thrive in today’s multidimensional world.

Building a community of esteem

When our children leave for college, they leave with a sense of independence, a newfound freedom, one that they will build on for the next 4 years in preparation of entering the real world and, ultimately, the work force. When we think about this life stage, is it possible for the social world to converge with the real world to help them build healthy independence?

We can’t undo the damage to our children’s minds and their sense of self-worth that social media has done to date. We can, however, think differently about how to use it to activate something more positive: mental wellness.

If you can’t beat social media, hack it

illustration by @g.note

Maybe we need to hack social media to encourage a new kind of healthy behavior — one that follows and likes positive things; one that unites and builds empathy instead of just building followers; one that builds health esteem, both individually and collectively. And once this is activated, we need to make sure that it’s payed forward. This generation is one with a strong social conscience and one that loves to give back; why not have them give people a world of acceptance?

Imagine a world of self-esteem and health esteem

This world of health esteem would be a world where kids and adults build self-acceptance and esteem, helping to break the stigmas surrounding mental health issues. This world feels half full versus half empty, and it’s trending positive.

Build acceptance

illustration by Koren Shadmi

I Am Acceptance (http://iamacceptance.org/) is a powerful not-for-profit organization whose mission is to promote mental health and empower students to take control of their mental wellness. Their “I Am Acceptance College Tour” seeks to be a solution to the isolation that occurs when one suffers from mental health issues. The goal of the tour is to initiate conversations with students on the topic of mental health in order to educate and empower them to seek support. The organization understands that students are at increased risk due to the mounting pressures and new responsibilities of college life, which often act as triggers for new college students who may be far from their usual support systems. Oftentimes, these students may neglect to reach out for help and instead become isolated. I Am Acceptance recognizes that this transition period is rife with internal complexities so they’ve created an organization built around helping drive acceptance and openness about mental health issues so that students won’t feel like they have to hide their condition, or feel the shame and stigma associated with suffering from a mental health illness.

Hear me. Understand me. Respect me. And accept me.

I Am Acceptance also recognizes that everyone deserves to be heard, understood, respected, and accepted. At the same time, they also understand that they can’t undo all of the things that can affect mental health, such as social media. So instead of erasing social media, they decided to hack it to create a means of self-expression that would not only build self-acceptance, but would foster “health esteem” in the process. Their new “health esteem” social initiative was launched on Instagram through their College Acceptance Ambassadors during back-to-school season at colleges across the country. Their goal is to leverage the ambassadors’ influence to drive paying mental wellness forward. @health_esteem is a place where college students can express themselves freely and feel heard and accepted. They can post their truth that other students can relate to. And they can build health esteem by connecting with others and by spreading mental wellness. This initiative will be year-round with the intent to activate a community of students who support this cause.

Paying positivity forward

Chances are you or someone you know has experienced or will experience a mental health concern. So be aware and show that you care. No one can argue that paying positivity forward and being open even about one’s struggles wouldn’t help stir a nation and world of young adults. It’s a way to make meaning out of the 4 years of moments and to help lift others up when they might be down.

And remember: self-acceptance equals health

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