Prompt: What do you think is the biggest mental health challenge facing university students today? How might social media contribute to that, if at all?

University seems to be the time when you’re expected to get your life together. You’re at the age where not only do others, but yourself too, expect that you make the right choices. You’re at the age where you start to take all responsibilities and all matters into your own hands.

At the same time, it is also the age where you feel liberated: moving out, getting involved in tons of social activities, meeting new people, falling in love, etc.

Sometimes, you just can’t get one right without screwing up the other.

With that, I think the biggest mental health issue university students face is problems of inadequacy, and social media definitely has a role in reinforcing it. This could subsequently lead to bigger problems like depression and anxiety.

We have always had the tendency to compare ourselves to others — it’s human nature. What makes it a much bigger problem today is how social media makes it way easier to do so and more difficult to shrug off.

In the day and age where everyone posts about almost everything and anything about their lives, it’s difficult to avoid “sticking your nose” into other people’s affairs. FOMO, or the fear of missing out, has become more prevalent than ever. But not just because you’re wondering why you’re not invited, but also because you’re wondering how you can get yourself into such social activities in the first place.

It doesn’t just stop at social activities either now that you can see almost every detail about someone’s lives, like the new job they got or their really good grades, or some fancy convention they just checked in at — basically them doing something about their lives while you sit around, scrolling and trying to get by.

I was speaking to a close friend struggling with this exact issue and it ended with him breaking down and wondering why he couldn’t get his life together; why he was feeling so inadequate on every front.

As someone who isn’t struggling with mental health, it is very difficult to imagine to what end social media can affect somebody else who is. As if making friends in university isn’t difficult enough, having your social media feed flooded with the life you wish you could have would definitely reinforce existing negative emotions.

On the doors of the cubicles in the female toilet just outside KHE127, things like “I have no friends” “I am lonely” “I just want to die” are scribbled all over. But not without encouraging remarks like “one day it will all be okay” (these aren’t exact, but typed from memory). Relationship issues, coupled with the pressure to keep our grades up (or in some cases, together) and the pressure of becoming a full-blown adult, are indeed major contributing factors to the feelings of inadequacy one might face at university level.

While it is now still easy to detach ourselves from superficial affirmation such as likes and followers, social media has admittedly become a much larger part of our lives. It has taken up more attention than we’d like — when we’d care about our feed more than the actual school work we have to do, when we’d care more about what’s going on in our friends’ lives than what our professor is speaking about at the moment, when we’d let these superficial things make us feel inadequate about ourselves.

As cliché as it is, there is a lot of ownership that we need to exercise in our use of social media. Yet, it’s influence in our lives have made us more lackadaisical than ever. We’re bombarded with so much information, so much to do on the platform, that we’ve become restless; that we’ve started to develop learned helplessness faster than ever.

This begets the need for self care online, a strong will not to let what we see and do online affect our self esteem, and a strong support system offline to remind us that we are more than the perfectly squared pictures we see and post online — all of which is still still lacking in the average university student.

Social media has the power to turn things around too, with more people using it for activism and churning out positive energy. We just need more of it, and more of it offline too. So grab a friend and hold them tight.

For anyone who could use it, I’d like you to know:

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