Updated: Jan 24, 2021
As research finds that social media may be linked to an increasing decline in mental health, the issue is frequently attributed to women but are men also feeling the pressure of today's digital society?
When we first wake up to the time we go to sleep, we're bombarded on social media with images of beautiful people, gym-honed bodies, luxury and wealth. People seem to have it all, thousands of followers, successful businesses and an abundance of creativity, which you could argue is a great source of inspiration. However, we can also be forgiven for feeling an immense amount of pressure to succeed or dissatisfaction with our everyday lives when we’re so used to seeing ‘perfection’. According to Statistica, in the UK, 45 million people are social media users, equalling a massive 66% of the population. But behind the tinsel town imagery and abundance of opportunity, social media is now increasingly linked to a decline in mental health. A 2017 study conducted by the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH), revealed that anxiety for young people has risen by 70% in the past 25 years and in another ranked Instagram and Snapchat as the worst platforms for young people's mental health. While there isn't evidence to say that social media is the sole factor for these figures, several mental health organisations are finding a correlation between our social media habits and mental health issues. When you type body image into Google, you're immediately met by images relating to women, indicating that body image is less of an issue for men. However, a report published by the Mental Health Foundation in 2019, highlighted that three in ten adult males (28%), aged 18 and above, feel anxious due to body image issues. Furthermore, one in five respondents revealed that a negative body image has caused them to wear clothes which hide certain body parts, with 22% admitting that, in the last year, they’ve negatively compared their body image to others. To find out more about how males view social media, four men aged 20-27 have opened up about how online platforms affect their mental health and how they manage their time on social media platforms. Content Creator, Aqib Afzal, 22, used to doubt his work if it wasn’t generating enough engagement but has now changed his perspective when it comes to posting on social media. “Social media doesn't affect my mental health as much as it used to. Having multiple businesses that operate mainly on social media can be a challenging task until you have built up a decent engagement. "I used to worry over the number of likes and followers I was getting and I'd think that my business wasn't good enough unless people engaged and liked my content,” Aqib said. “I've realised how unnecessary it is to be stressing over things like that. Social media now is all about luck and contacts rather than simply great content.” Instagram’s latest algorithm only increases the anxiety of how content is being perceived, due to the app significantly decreasing users reach if they don’t consistently post on the platform. The method behind social media algorithms has recently been revealed in Netflix’s sobering documentary, The Social Dilemma, in which former employees of tech companies, explained how tech bosses are taking advantage of our social media habits. The documentary highlights how every piece of our online movement is memorised, from the pages we look at, to even how long we spend looking at them. AI technology then stores and replicates this content to keep us constantly hooked to apps, which the former employees recognise as a large factor affecting people’s self-esteem. When student, Gregor Thompson, 25, realised that he'd started comparing his life to others, he decided to unfollow pages which didn’t contribute to his wellbeing. “I gave up social media about two years ago because I’d spend too long scrolling and it wasn’t producing any positivity in my life. I deleted the apps and only checked Facebook, maybe once a week, via the computer. “During lockdown, I redownloaded the apps and realised I had completely changed my habits,” Gregor said. “Social media affected my mental health negatively because I would compare myself to others in what they were doing and how they look. However, now the accounts I follow motivate me to do more, be productive and exercise.” Unlike most large corporations, social media doesn’t have regulations in place to hold tech bosses to account and monitor how our data is being stored. Having regulations in place is a solution the Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCP) and former employees of tech companies are calling on authorities to implement, to monitor information online and limit negative consequences on our health. Graphic Designer, Craig Reid, 25, praises social media for being a positive outlet for creativity but also believes there is a pressure for males to portray themselves in a certain way. “I feel as a male social media affects my mental health both positively and negatively. Positively being that it is an incredible place to find a lot of inspiring, entertaining and inspirational content. “As a male, I feel there is a way media and those on it expect men to behave and act. I do feel this stigma around ‘being a man’ is still very prevalent on social media and it does affect me, as I rarely post on certain social media platforms,” Craig said. “I’ve learned over the past few years to cut out certain platforms such as Snapchat or block and hide pages, posts and people that negatively affect my mental health.” However, business owner, Adam Alkhateb, 27, doesn't feel personally affected by social media and believes that the pressure generated from online platforms is significantly worse for women. “On a personal level, I don’t feel any pressure as a male. Social media doesn’t have the same effect on men’s mental health as it does with women. Men don’t face the same enormous pressure that women have to deal with. “Social media deliberately exploits the insecurities of women making them feel they’re not good enough and force them to consistently act in a certain way or change their appearance," Adam said. "This unhealthy pressure has severe consequences on their mental health."