UK personality Caroline Flack, below, was recently found dead in her home from an apparent suicide. Evidence is mounting that her suicide might to linked to social media taunting.    supplied
UK personality Caroline Flack, below, was recently found dead in her home from an apparent suicide. Evidence is mounting that her suicide might to linked to social media taunting. supplied

Uncovering the dark side of social media

By Viwe Ndongeni-Ntlebi Time of article published Mar 6, 2020

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The death of former 'Love Island' host Caroline Flack has raised many questions.

She was found dead in her home in London a few weeks ago from an apparent suicide.

One of the issues that’s been brought to the fore is the impact of social media on mental health.

Evidence is mounting that there is a link between social media and depression.

Anne Dolinschek, a public relations consultant and writer discusses the effects of social media on mental health. It’s time we rethink the way people interact with each other online.

The behaviour on many of these platforms could be described as cyber-bullying sometimes. She advocates for more public awareness.

“It’s difficult when you’re at the receiving end of it, and I have been a couple of times. I’ve even received death threats once.

“It’s never a great feeling but experience has taught me that the opinions of the anonymous should not affect my self-esteem or rather the way I view myself.

“I fear that the same is not true for many others, especially those who are incessantly bullied. It’s even worse for the younger social media users who are often crippled by it.”

The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag) says suicide is the second-leading and fastest-growing cause of death among young people, particularly 15 to 24-year-olds.

It’s reported that suicide accounts for about nine percent of all teen deaths. Although not all teen suicides are directly related to social media, the role it plays and its impact cannot be ignored as it can contribute to a decline in mental health.

Dean McCoubrey, the founder of MySociaLife, teaches digital life skills programme for schools. Young South Africans are vulnerable to mental health issues caused by the socio-economic factors. There is also the bombardment by online activity and social media use.

The constant social feeds and instant messages as well the always-on nature of smartphones and virality of social networks places this exposure in the paths of teenagers and pre-teens through a diversity of devices - cellphones, tablets, computers and consoles.

“Although smartphones are relatively recent developments, there is already research linking social media use in children to depression, and there are a number of ways smart devices and social media can affect children and adults,” says McCoubrey.

“This includes obsessive overuse, disconnection from real-world relationships, anxiety about what we have seen or experienced online, self-esteem and body issues from overexposure and comparison.”

We can’t live without social media but we can learn how to use it better.

The Child Mind Institute gives tips on healthy social media use.

These include:

  • Focus on balance: ensure your children engage in social interaction offline, and activities to build identity and self-confidence.
  • Turn off notifications: Smartphone app developers are getting more aggressive with notifications so children engage constantly with their phones. Don’t let them.
  • Teaching mindful use of social media: Help teenagers to disengage from interactions that increase stress or unhappiness.

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