The dark side of social media

With nearly 200,000 followers, 22-year-old TikTok influencer Tan Yeo Shi Lee is sometimes subjected to more scrutiny than his peers when he expresses himself on social media.

The second-year Singapore Management University student said: “It can be as simple as ‘this is not funny’ or ‘you’re ugly’ and you start wondering whether what they say is true.”

“Sadly, it can really make you more insecure, though for me, I try not to let it affect me too much and I trust the words of those close to me much more,” he said.

Seeing picture-perfect people on social media has also made him more conscious about how he represents himself online.

The Sunday Times spoke to 23 people including social workers, counsellors, psychologists and parents, who said the impact of social media on the mental health of the young in Singapore is concerning.

And not just in terms of cyber bullying.

Cho Ming Xiu, founder and executive director of mental advocacy non-profit Campus PSY, said most young people find it difficult not to check on their friends on social media and compare their lives.

“You can’t just do well in your studies. You have to be an all-rounder – you have to have a good CCA record, secure a good internship at a reputable company.

“This constant competition emphasised by social media channels by their peers... and young people find it stressful,” he said.

Psychologists say the deluge of attractive posts can trigger feelings of inferiority or inadequacy, especially among young people with less experience to differentiate the social media world from real life.

Mental health advocates and social agencies say young people are vulnerable to relying on social media for self-worth and self-image, even as they try to forge their own identity.

Assistant director of Touch Mental Wellness Andrea Chan said seeing good things can draw much envy and comparison, while identification with bad things can lead to a negative spiral.

Getting likes is rewarding for the brain through an increase in dopamine similar to an adrenaline rush, added Dr Emily Ortega, the head of psychology at the Singapore University of Social Science.

The experts say if these pressures are left unchecked, negative thoughts and feelings from social media can contribute to depression, anxiety and eating disorders.

Meanwhile, more mental health advocacy groups and agencies like Re: Mind Singapore have taken to social media in the past five years to provide bite-sized information to educate the public about mental health and how to seek help.

The bottom line is that social media can be used healthily, experts said, if young people are taught how to navigate the pressures of the online world. — The Straits Times/ANN

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