Fresh from the world of university and here spending a week in the Forster office, I am perhaps typical of my generation in at least one sense: I am in danger of becoming a social media addict.
For me, the reality of graduation has meant that many friends who were once a five minute walk away can now only be reached by a good four or five hour train journey. Social media sites, in particular Twitter and Facebook, provide a rather more convenient and economically viable way of keeping in contact and up to date with each other’s news.
Feeling myself increasingly drawn to social media, my eye has been caught by the recent anxiety in the press regarding online means of communication. Particular attention has been paid to the new study released by Ethan Kross from the University of Michigan, which suggests that there might be a correlation between an increase in the amount of time young adults spend on Facebook and increased feelings of loneliness. Similarly, Beeban Kidron’s film, In Real Life, released last week, focuses on how the Internet might be affecting children and shakes the perception of the Internet as a positive platform of connectivity. Social media is becoming repeatedly associated with having a negative impact on mental health, where platforms designed for connectivity and networking appear to be perpetuating anti-social behaviour and perceptions of isolation.
With all this negative attention, it was encouraging to see how social media could be and is being used to directly campaign for improvements in mental health. For instance, Forster worked with the Black Dog Tribe initiative, inspired by Ruby Wax, which was launched in early 2012. The Black Dog Tribe (BDT) is an online community for people affected by mental illness, where forums and blogs are a source of support, advice and information for family, friends and carers in addition to those personally affected. The community is extended by the BDT’s Facebook page and a Twitter following of nearly eleven thousand, where the latest news, events, campaigns are shared alongside inquiries, messages of support and even artwork produced by followers.
The Black Dog Tribe is evidence that whilst social networking is perhaps no substitute for rewarding face-to-face communication, neither should we be so quick to condemn it as damaging to mental health. As a way of reaching out to people and encouraging interaction and discussion, initiatives such as BDT make a real difference for those affected by mental health issues by reducing the stigma and consequent silence surrounding the subject.
For more information about the Black Dog Tribe initiative see their website