Apps Internet Mental Health Social Media

Help is Only a Button Away

By Posted 31 October 2016

A recent study by the University of Pittsburgh found that the more time people spend on social media, the more likely they are to be depressed. Honestly, I’m not surprised. I mean, who hasn’t spent hours scrolling through their ex’s feeds, wondering which of the many babes in their latest photos they’re bangin’? Who hasn’t seen a photo of friends at dinner and wondered why wasn’t I invited? Or posted something really really funny and have no one reply?

Yeah. The internet can suck sometimes.

Which is why Instagram’s latest update is so impressive. Basically, it’s a support feature that allows users to anonymously ‘report’ an image that they think might be a sign of deeper issues like depression, alcoholism and eating disorders. When an image is reported, the poster receives a message from Instagram checking in. The wording is: “Someone saw one of your posts and thinks you might be going through a difficult time. If you need support, we’d like to help.”

The app then suggests support options from talking to a friend, to contacting a local helpline or seeking professional advice. The help options listed are local to the poster and the app even enables the poster to access help through the app itself. There are 40 organisations across the world participating. In Australia, Instagram is collaborating with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and the National Eating Disorder Association to offer a lifeline to internet users in need.

There are two other salient features. Firstly, Instagram also sends a message to the person who flagged the image advising them how best to help their friend.

Perhaps most importantly, if a user searched for hashtags associated with self-harm, eating disorders or mental health issues (for example ‘#thinspo’), Insta will send a message asking ‘Can we help?’

This comes in the wake (though the two are likely unrelated) of the Louise Delage saga. Delage was a 25-year old Parisian social media star. She collected over 65 000 followers in a month. But here’s the thing about Louise… she wasn’t real. Her account was a publicity stunt the advertising agency BETC, and Louise was the headlining act in their ‘Like my addiction’ campaign.  See, in every single photo Louise ever posted, she was holding an alcoholic beverage of some support

Insta isn’t the first social media outlet to take affirmative action about mental health. In 2015, Facebook launched a similar feature in the US and started rolling it out globally at the start of 2016. The blogging site Tumblr (once notorious for it’s thinspo and self harm glorifying pages) has become a leader in mental health advocacy on the net and has numerous blogs dedicated to helping those in need. Similarily to Insta, when a user searches certain phrases lie ‘suicide,’ ‘depressed,’ or similar, they are redirected to a page offering links to available resources.

This move towards corporate responsibility is new to the Internet, but has been slowly entering ‘real life’ over the last few years. We are now seeing more and more businesses giving back. Cafes have started offering ‘suspended’ coffees, where a person buys two coffees with their order – one for themselves and one for a needy stranger to collect later. Businesses are hiring disadvantaged youth and making cent-per-dollar donations to charity. Advertisers are using more diverse models. Manufacturers are initiating carbon-offset schemes. Corporate responsibility is on the rise.

It’s time we all started pitching in.

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