PSA to All University Students: Put Down the Phone — Your Mental Health is Suffering Enough

*TRIGGER WARNING*

If you yourself deal with any sort of anxiety and depression and would find it difficult or triggering to your mental health to read more about the correlation between these mental illnesses and post-secondary education, then please be warned that this blogpost will be talking about such topics.

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Historically, mental health has typically always been a taboo topic that millions — especially university students — have had to suffer through in silence and isolation. Today, I am so grateful for the fact that I live in a day and age where resources are not only available, but strongly encouraged for all students who may need mental health support. Although we have a long way to go in terms of establishing better funding, representation and resources for the promotion of better mental health for post-secondary students (and students of all ages in general), we are definitely a lot more fortunate than our parents’ generations and those before them that had to deal with their mental health issues in silence. When I think of university I automatically think of stress and anxiety. However, this stress and anxiety is not just a result of the workload that comes hand in hand with being a university student, but it also comes from a variety of factors as well — living alone for the first time, moving to an entirely new province/country/continent, creating a social community for yourself, etc — the high stress inhibiting nearly all aspects of a first year’s life and even continuing throughout your university career. I know I am only in my first year, but I am no stranger to the stress of school let alone post-secondary education. I’ve been the victim of, and the witness to, numerous breakdowns due to being overloaded with insane amounts of papers, projects, assignments and of course readings. Somehow you’re supposed to fit in going to three hour lectures, then times that by five classes, and if you work then that takes time as well, then somehow you’re supposed to balance a social life in there too (but, take it from me, you won’t have much of one if you’re dedicated to your studies). In the words of your profs, ‘it’s nothing really that you can’t handle;’ but your mental and often physical health suffer tremendously in the process…and by no means is this okay. In addition to anxiety, depression is a definite reality for a lot of students as well, suicidal thoughts, attempts, self-harm, and actual suicide all too real within the community of post-secondary students. Numerous studies have been conducted indicating this staggering rise of anxiety, depression and suicidal attempts; the President of the Ontario University and College Health Association (OUCHA) Meg Houghton even going so far as to say that “lives are at stake” (qtd. In CBC News Ottawa).

As if school didn’t exasperate our mental capacities and health enough, social media just adds fuel to the flame in multiple different ways. As something that cannot be easily regulated, it’s important to recognize what we not only as students, but as participants in the online community, can do to minimize the effects of social media in terms of mental health.

Not only is social media an enormous distraction for students, but it wrecks havoc on our self-esteem; constantly making us feel bad about ourselves. Definitely not something you should be turning to when you’re already feeling any sort of anxiety and especially depression. It’s no wonder why body image issues fester and develop so easily these days due to visual platforms (like Instagram) where we can interact and observe the lives of models, celebrities, and social media icons for hours on end. When you’re given the choice to so freely delve into the lives of others, it’s easy to get lost in the one that’s projected on the screen of your phone and compare it to your own. The farther you go down this rabbit hole the harder it is to come back up and snap back to reality. Often times, once we resurface from the minutes and hours of stalking other people’s profiles and blogs we’re left with a deep sense of sadness — an overwhelming feeling of disappointment. The thing that frustrates me the most though is how unsatisfied people are with their lives just because they don’t have a massive social media following, a model’s body, or the seemingly “perfect” relationship. All these posts by these people on social media are just highlights — snippets and snapshots of only the best, and we put pressure on ourselves to have every moment in our lives just as perfect. This, however, is impossible; but it’s something that we can’t seem to cope with or accept. So, we chase after these lifestyles and ambitions and #goals certain that once our lives mimic the people we idolize online, THEN, and finally then, will we be happy. As if university students didn’t already face enough pressure from all other aspects of their lives to succeed and become the stereotypical projection of what that success actually looks like, social media takes it a step further and often times makes us become our worst critic and enemy. Our self-esteems taking a beating by the minute as we continue to scroll mindlessly, yet mindfully, feeding our brains with unhealthy associations and identifications of success and beauty.

Continuing on with the subject of pressure, social media encourages mental health challenges like anxiety and depression, by also pressuring university students to have it all figured out; and, most importantly, to NOT fail. This can be considered to be falling along the same lines as the self-esteem issues social media spurs on but I think this pressure creates more of a sense of panic, fear, and doubt in one’s life; ultimately in one’s self. I know for myself, seeing so many successful people online (whether that be in my field of work I want to someday work in, or someone who got famous for some ridiculous reason) can be motivating but it can also be worrisome. I say worrisome because there is always pressure in university to succeed and have your life and career all figured out; eventually (hopefully) being able to financially support yourself in a way that allows you to live your life better than just paycheck to paycheck. Then, as if that won’t turn you into ball of stress, then the reality that your youth is fastly escaping you by the minute and suddenly you’re in your mid-twenties having to enter the real “corporate” world will be enough to make your insides flip and rotate 360 degrees. (Can you tell that I’ve already considered this a bunch of times). It’s the fear that time is running out when in reality your lives haven’t even really begun yet. Yet, all the same you worry and receive this pressure from your loved ones, peers, and even profs to not fail — to make something of yourself (even though this is completely subjective).

Subsequently, this pressure to succeed makes the competitive playing field so much more intense and cut-throat — both inside and outside of school. Because social media is showing us that becoming extremely successful at a young age is possible, and that social media can be that tool that takes you to that boost in your career that you might need, suddenly social media isn’t just used ‘for fun’ anymore but for your career. Students around the world and evidently at Ryerson heavily use their social media accounts as a way to help expose their work, their experience and especially the span of their networks; any pair of eyes finding your page or profile potentially being a future employer or once in a lifetime opportunity. This pressure to succeed and the overwhelming pressure of the competition for work in our generation is definitely contrived by social media; attributing to even more anxiety in a student’s life. Everyone wants to be able to have financial freedom to live their lives how they want, and all these projections of success and luxury online encourages that anxiety and often depression that your life doesn’t look like that and it might never look like that.

Yes, mental health issues are on the rise in university/college students just by the demands of the environments that come along with being a student, but social media plays a huge part as well. In university it’s very important to be able to ground yourself in your morals and beliefs whatever they may be, and if you subconsciously slip into a mindset where those core values and belief systems are rooted in what you see on social media, your mental health will gravely suffer. I can only wish that for whoever is reading this you don’t get lost in the hype that you see online: where 21-year-old millionaires, teenage viral celebrities, and Instagram famous models/brands rule the social apps on your phone. Trust me when I tell you your life doesn’t have to look like that in order for you to feel extremely blessed or happy. Trust me when I say that you being here, alive and well on this planet, is success in itself.

Resources:

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/ottawa/mental-health-ontario-campus-crisis-1.3771682

http://www.bu.edu/today/2016/college-students-anxiety-and-depression/

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