Social media has taken the world by storm. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat have dramatically impacted the way we communicate. You can see what someone is doing instantly or tell the world what you’re thinking in a moment with a tweet, as long as your thought is 140 characters or less!

The use of social media has become enmeshed into our everyday lives. The 2013 Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey discovered that out of 750 7th through 12th graders, 25% spent a minimum of two hours a day utilizing social media.

Why does it matter that so many of us spend our time on these platforms? Research indicates that excessive use of social media has a profound effect on our mental health. For those who are already emotionally vulnerable or who struggle with mental health issues, logging on to your favorite interface and seeing your peers leading seemingly perfect lives can lead to exaggerated thoughts of self-doubt, intensified feelings of hopelessness and trigger at-risk behavior.

What is the solution? Simply hoping that social media will go away is unlikely. Our virtual realities are here for the foreseeable future. Therefore, we need to ensure that what we are viewing and engaging in is positive, nurturing and helps to build us up. Rather than being passive consumers of social media, a better way to participate is to use it as it was designed – to interact, connect and engage with the rest of the world.

A widespread critique of social media is that it decreases face-to-face interaction, which causes us to behave in ways online that we would otherwise refrain from in person due to the ability to read body language and use social judgment.  However, studies show that it can actually help people learn empathy. Doctor Larry D Rosen, a psychology professor at California State University, explained to the New York Times that seeing important and challenging life events such as someone going through a gender transition makes teenagers more open and understanding to people who are different. Rosen explained, “‘Hey, this friend of a friend is going through a gender-change operation, and I see it on his Facebook page.’ We have more of an opportunity to build up a feeling of fairness and equality because we’re exposed to much more of everybody’s lives now.”iphone social media

The solution to our social media dilemma lies in rethinking the way we use it. A lot of what we see on our newsfeed is within our control and we can begin to create an online space for ourselves that is a refuge instead of an emotional vortex. How do we do that? Here are a few ideas:

  1. Be more of an active user than a passive user. If you’re only taking in what you’re seeing on your newsfeed then you’re not using social media as it was intended: to build relationships from all over the world that can make you feel connected and part of a community. Like, share, comment and tweet your way to new and closer friendships!
  2. Energy is contagious – ditch the downers. Clean up your news feed by eliminating people and pages that are negative and bring you down. This is the best way to ensure that when you log on, you are most likely to see posts that align with your values and how you prefer to engage in social media.
  3. Dive into the things that take you outside of yourself. Why isthis important? Someone who spends time thinking about an earthquake halfway across the world is not worrying about a party that their classmates are going to this weekend. Start by following your favorite news outlets or social causes. Bonus points for using social media to inform others of what’s important to you!
  4. Engage in selfless acts and practice inclusion. For example, take a moment to give a shout out to someone who has made your life a little easier. It can be as simple as publicly thanking a friend through a post for helping you carry your science project to your locker. Acknowledging someone else can help to build his or her confidence, encourage others to engage in more positive online behavior (and doling out the positivity feels pretty good inside, too).

Keep a lookout for our campaign #Rethink4MentalHealth. Soon we will be challenging you to get involved and rethink how you use your social media platforms. We promise you will “Like” it!