Instagram can be bad for mental health — but the company wants to fix that

Instagram is trying to tackle its mental health problem with a wellbeing team. Getty Images

Instagram has a reputation for being potentially detrimental to mental health. But it appears the social media website is trying to fix that problem.

The company has launched a “wellbeing team,” according to senior Instagram executive Eva Chen.

READ MORE: Report says Instagram is the worst app for young people’s mental health

During a recent speech at Cornell University in New York, Chen said that the wellbeing of the app’s online community is “one of the top priorities.”

While the company hasn’t revealed how much progress the new team has made, part of its mandate is to figure out ways to “prevent spam, abuse and harassment” on the platform.

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Mental health of users is something that Instagram has tried to tackle in the past. Last year, it launched a campaign called #HereForYou to raise awareness on the issue.

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Instagram also has a feature that lets users anonymously report others whom they fear may have mental health problems. It will then reach out to those users to offer them help, with a message that reads, “If you’re going through a difficult time and want support, we’d like to help.”

READ MORE: 5 Canadians on what social media is doing to their mental health

The social media app then offers three options: Talk to a friend, contact a helpline, or get tips and support.

In a May 2017 blog post, Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom explained that the company is “committed to fostering a safer, kinder community.”

Criticism of Instagram

While the company is working on tackling its mental health problem, research has linked the app to higher rates of anxiety and depression.

According to a 2017 report by the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) in the U.K., Instagram was ranked the worst app for young people’s mental health, followed by Snapchat.

According to the survey, Instagram caused anxiety, depression, loneliness, and issues with sleep, body image and bullying.

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Benefits of social media on mental health

But it’s important to note that social media apps such as Instagram can also have positive effects on mental health.

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Dr. Becky Inkster, a University of Cambridge researcher who helped carry out the RSPH study, explained that social media can help people communicate and find communities in ways that are not possible in person.

“This holistic perspective could integrate personal interests and activities,” she said in a press release. “It might help improve psychoeducation, increase self-awareness of mental health and act as a preventative measure.”

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How awareness can help with mental health problems

Thierry Plante, a media education specialist at online literacy group MediaSmarts, explained to Global News that Instagram putting a greater focus on preventing abuse and harassment is a step in the right direction.

But Plante added that another integral part of the solution lies in users having greater awareness. He explained that social media doesn’t offer a full account of what someone’s life is like — and being aware of that is key.

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“It might give someone the impression that everybody else is living a much better life than they are, and that might have a negative effect on mental health and the way you see yourself,” he said.

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“The basic premise of media literacy would be that by understanding the structure of these platforms, you’re much more resistant to potential negative effects.”

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Seeking help

While the steps Instagram has taken may help those facing mental health challenges, there are other avenues for support as well.

For children in particular, who may not know how to get help or whom to contact in person, he recommends using the Kids Help Phone.

If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help, resources are available. In case of an emergency, please call 911 for immediate help.

The Canadian Association for Suicide PreventionDepression Hurts and Kids Help Phone 1-800-668-6868 all offer ways of getting help if you, or someone you know, may be suffering from mental health issues.

— With files from Global News reporter Arti Patel

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