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How Instagram Is Helping Users With Mental Health Issues

May 08, 2017

People tend to look happier on Instagram. The photo-based social media platform allows users to present a curated version of themselves, in which life is a series of vacations, flattering angles, and brunch platters. Dark, complicated, or mundane moments, meanwhile, rarely make the cut.

But with a new campaign aimed at addressing mental health issues, Instagram is trying to (gently) alter this equation. Dubbed #HereForYou, the initiative highlights users and communities on the social network who are raising “awareness about mental health and the importance of finding support,” founder and chief executive Kevin Systrom said in a blog post. By clicking on selected hashtags (including #HereForYou, along with other, more specific hashtags), the goal is to make it easier for users grappling with mental health-related issues to find resources on the platform.

In a video announcing the project, three Instagramers share their own, varied struggles with mental health, and how the platform helped them cope. “Through Instagram, I was able to connect with other girls who were going through similar things,” says Elyse Fox, 27. “My main thing is to bring girls together and let girls know they aren’t alone.”

Instagram’s overall impact on mental health is complicated. A growing body of research suggests that heavy social media use is linked to higher rates of depression. Teenagers, a group that spends an exorbitant amount of time interacting online, are particularly vulnerable. In response, social media companies have added features that aim to identify emotionally troubled individuals and connect them with relevant resources. Instagram, for example, allows users to anonymously flag any post they believe suggests the author is dealing with a mental health-related issue, including suicidal intent, thoughts of self-harm, or an eating disorder. The company then sends the flagged user a list of relevant mental-health organizations.

These tools, while admirable, don’t acknowledge any culpability: by enabling users to project the highlights of their lives, while ignoring the lowlights, the platform likely contributes to feelings of depression, anxiety, and stress, particularly in teens.

Instagram’s new campaign doesn’t explicitly acknowledge this connection, either. But at least there is an implicit attempt to bridge the gap between the platform—where everything is filtered and #blessed—and real life, where one in five U.S. adults experience mental health illness in a given year.

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