Anita Kelly: Your social media connections come at an emotional cost

A group of board members standing around a table smiling and working together. A diverse mix of genders, rsces and ages are represented.

Headshot of Katherine Kimber  Anita Kelly

 

Anita Kelly (MA Geography, 2011) is a blogger, writer and web designer. She blogs on faith and mental health issues as well as natural beauty at Anita T. Kelly - Writer.


 

                                                                                     

Recently, I've been thinking long and hard about the impact of social media on my mental health, and on wider society. Recent research by the Mental Health Foundation with YouGov found that from a sample of UK adults and GB teenagers (aged 13-19) one in five adults felt shame, just over one third felt down or low, and 19% felt disgusted because of their body image in the last year. Among teenagers, 37% felt upset, and 31% felt ashamed in relation to their body image. Contributing factors including bullying, social media and advertising, mean that as a society we are prone to constantly questioning our self-worth and how we view ourselves, with the temptation to compare ourselves to others’ posts and photos online.

According to mental health charity Young Minds, ‘negative body image can affect us in a number of ways, and in severe cases can lead to mental health conditions such as eating disorders.’ This is because there is a strong, visual pressure to look a certain way or be a certain body weight to feel good about ourselves. In response to this, there has been a hashtag campaign by #NoFilterNeeded to discourage us from using filters to improve our social media posts.

Earlier this year I decided to take a weeklong social media fast. It was a relief to be away from the pressures of being constantly plugged in, so much so that I decided to stay off a little longer. 

                                                                                    

However, FOMO (fear of missing out) kicked in and, as a writer, I worried about losing my online presence whilst off social media. I’d also read about Dr Bex Lewis’ experiences of social media, which reminded me of how supportive an online community can be. Dr Lewis is an academic researching people’s views on this topic, she says ‘[as someone] at home with cancer treatment, social media is my lifeline, connecting with others in similar situation, getting advice, managing the dark feelings of treatment.’

So, slightly reluctantly, I started posting again. I wrote a new blog post based on my experiences and re-joined my social networks. Worryingly, I soon started experiencing disrupted sleep. It took longer than usual to get to sleep and I'd wake a few hours later and woke too early with an overactive mind. My brain was adjusting to being stimulated more by blue screens and I felt more tired from processing more information.

It’s taken me a few months, but I’m starting to find the right balance. I’m now regularly posting again, but I’m trying to stick to healthy boundaries. Instead of allowing them to constantly interrupt my day, I chunk my time, checking and posting once a day to Facebook and Instagram, so that the dopamine hit doesn’t become an overwhelming force which takes over my life. By engaging with social media on my own terms and paying attention to my online interactions, hopefully I can find a balance that allows me to experience the benefits of being part of a community without worrying about matching up to the unrealistic ideals promoted online.


Useful links

Find out more about King's mental health here: kcl.ac.uk/ioppn/research/index

Mind UK runs the mental health forums elefriends.org.uk offering online peer support for adults.

If you or someone you know is in need of help, mental health charity MQ has a list of helpful organisations.

 

Dr Njoki Wamai (Conflict, Security and Development, 2012) is an assistant professor in International Relations at the United Nations International University in Kenya.


Historically there have been lots of reasons that Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) stories have not been told as part of mainstream western histories. There are relatively few ethnic minorities in many of the elite spaces where these stories are discussed, such as in the media, politics and academia. Many white people aren’t happy speaking out of their comfort zone to speak for the ‘other’.

The lack of these stories can impact on the life decisions being made by BAME young people today. Historical bias is propagated as ethnic minority students look for more diverse spaces in which to progress their careers, avoiding careers where they do not see faces like their own. Their decisions are affected by the racism of the past as well as the unconscious bias, everyday racism and microaggressions that still exist.

In recent years, moves have been made to start to counter this problem. Every October, for example, Black History month reminds us about the challenges we have faced, the progress we have made and the efforts needed for a future of inclusiveness. Like many universities, King’s hosts a number of events exploring black history and the black experience, as well as using hashtags like #bhm2019 to share black stories online. Projects like #BlackAcademicsAtKings highlight the impact that black students and academics are having on university culture today.

But we should do more to celebrate our black history. King’s has many black alumni of whom we should be proud. From pioneers in the fight against racism like Africanus Horton, one of the first British trained black doctors and a prominent campaigner for African self-government, and Kofoworola Abeni Pratt, the first black nurse in the NHS; to people making waves in culture like superstar sprinter Dina Asher Smith and Tobi Oredein, founder of Black Ballad, a news platform focussed on Black female voices. By sharing their stories, we change the narrative for potential students now. A King’s education, and the careers that can open up, should become the norm for BAME students thinking about their futures.

We also need to offer additional support to young people from BAME backgrounds and be more open and inclusive to difference. One institution making progress in this area is the African Leadership Centre (ALC). Founded by Professor Funmi Olonisakin, the ALC is a joint project between King’s and the University of Nairobi, bringing together a global community of scholars. It is one of the best institutions for mentoring and training the next generation of African academics and policy makers in the field of peace and security. Beyond being an institution, it feels like a home for me and many of its alumni because of the personalized support and mentorship the programme provides to help the Fellows reach their potential.

We shouldn’t take these kinds of initiatives for granted. When I first joined Cambridge in 2012, I realised that there were no black academics to look up to like I had to Prof Funmi and her colleague Prof Charles Alao at King’s. I felt I needed to do something for those who came after me, so I co-founded a research society to research into black Cambridge alumni and recover the histories of people like me who had studied there but were not present in representations of the university such as the numerous portraits in the college dining halls and rooms. Through the effort of many dedicated students who joined the Black Cantabs Research Society, and with the support of the University of Cambridge's Vice Chancellor Stephen Toope, we held an exhibition celebrating significant Black graduates like Dianne Abbott MP, the actor Naomi Harris, Gloria Cumper, who was the first Jamaican black woman to study at Cambridge and Efua Sutherland, the first African woman from Ghana to study there. The exhibition has inspired more research and commitments from college to increase opportunities for students of African descent, as well as helping current BAME students realise that they are as much a part of Cambridge as anyone else. I would love to see King’s celebrate its Black history by doing something similar.

We need to create more opportunities like the ALC and Black Cantabs and we need to talk about them more as well. Celebrating our diversity will get the message out that Kings values its BAME community members. It will encourage other black and ethnic minority students, faculty and staff to join Kings, and that is something that the whole community will benefit from.


 

 

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