Courageous Conversations: Social Media Self Harm and Self Help

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SPRINGFIELD, Mo.– Where years ago, self-help looked like finding the perfect motivational book, visiting a therapist, or contributing to a support group made up of like-minded people today many will simply turn on their phones.

“All the sudden I know these people. They’re my friends.”

Jonathan Groves, a communications professor at Drury University, is a bit of a social media expert and understands the appeal. 

“All the sudden I know these people. They’re my friends,” Groves says. “Why do we do it? One of the big reasons we use social media is to connect to other human beings.”

The connectivity factor not only a motivator to use social media but, according to Burrell Behavioral Health’s Cristin Martinez, that connection is also a major player in treating mental health problems like depression. 

“Community is important and a support system is vital in the process of improving,” Martinez says.

So you can see if you’re in a position where you crave connection– the instant community simulated by social media can be very attractive. 

But both Martinez and groves say its a double-edged sword.

“It can also become an addiction,” Groves says. “Maybe you post a picture of yourself and people are like, oh you’re so pretty, you’re such a good person, you have such a pretty smile or I love that artwork you made. Then what you start doing is pandering to the audience because you want more likes and it becomes this thing that you can’t keep away from and it feeds on itself.”

Like advertising, who you follow can lead to unfair social standards. 

And of course, it can also become a petri dish for anonymous trolls set to do more damage to the already vulnerable. 

“You look fat, you look stupid, you should kill yourself. And then they do. That’s the scary part. When you’re online nobody can touch you,” Martinez says.

For those reasons, Martinez and groves are both offering advice on healthier ways to use what could be a tool in your battle with mental health and self-improvement.

For Groves, the answer is using social media as a supplement, not replace, reality.

“Real life groups in conjunction with online groups,” Groves says. “You can make those private accounts and then just make sure that everyone you connect with are people that you know.”

For Martinez, it’s a social network built on the foundation of mental health improvement. 

“Burrell believes in an app called MyStrength. Folks that’re using it have improved their depression symptoms over 43 percent at this point. The cool thing about MyStrength is you’re connected to a community and you can see what other people have posted like Facebook and they post inspirational posters or quotes and you can connect with somebody in that way.”

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