Empowerment vs exploitation: Balancing benefits and risks of social media for women’s mental health in digital age | Health

In today’s time, the rise of social media platforms has brought about unprecedented connectivity and communication and India, being the most populous country with the second-largest number of global Internet users, boasts a highly attractive and competitive Internet market. Despite only 43% of Indians having internet access, a substantial number of social media users spend an average of 2.6 hours daily on these platforms.

Empowerment vs exploitation: Balancing benefits and risks of social media for women’s mental health in digital age (Photo by Freepik)

It is almost a norm for smartphone users to have at least one social app that they engage with briefly however, the impact of social media varies from person to person. The influence of social media on mental health is an important topic to consider as according to experts, around 7.5% of Indian women grapple with severe mental health conditions and almost half of adult females encounter less serious mental health issues at least once in their lifetime.

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In an interview with HT Lifestyle, Arushi Jain, Director, Akums Drugs and Pharmaceuticals, shared, “The good side of social media is evident. Platforms like Instagram, Twitter, and Meta empower women to build communities, share experiences, and nurture connections. It provides a space for diverse voices to be heard and enables women to access information and resources that might otherwise be inaccessible. However, the very same platforms can be a breeding ground for challenges that impact mental health.”

She revealed, “One of the most pressing challenges is the perpetuation of harmful beauty standards and body image ideals. With the proliferation of filters, photo-editing tools, and influencers promoting unrealistic beauty standards, women are bombarded with unattainable images of perfection. Women often find themselves measuring their lives against the seemingly perfect images presented by others. This constant comparison can lead to feelings of inadequacy, creating a negative impact on mental health. Women often find themselves measuring their lives against the seemingly perfect images presented by others. This phenomenon also perpetuates harmful stereotypes, reinforcing the notion that beauty equates to value.”

Arushi Jain added, “Cyberbullying is another dark facet of social media that disproportionately affects women. The veil of anonymity in the digital space emboldens individuals to partake in harmful behaviours, spanning from body shaming to targeted harassment. The repercussions extend beyond the virtual world and leave lasting emotional imprints in real life. Consequently, many women resort to self-silencing, suppressing their authentic selves to evade judgement and condemnation. It’s essential to note the emergence of deepfake technology is adding another layer of concern, where pictures and videos can be manipulated.”

Despite these challenges, there is a growing movement advocating for greater awareness and digital literacy to mitigate the adverse effects of social media on women’s mental health. Arushi Jain advised, “Setting boundaries is vital – recognising when to step back and unplug from the digital noise is a vital aspect of self-care. Encouraging open conversations about mental health is necessary. Normalising discussions around the challenges women face in the digital age encourages a supportive environment. This can lead to the creation of online communities that prioritise well-being and provide a counter-narrative to toxic online spaces.”

Emphasising that critical media literacy proves to be incredibly empowering, Arushi Jain explained, “By educating women on discerning and challenging the unrealistic depictions presented on social media, they can interact with these platforms in a more mindful manner. Recognizing that online content often represents a curated glimpse rather than an authentic portrayal can cultivate mental resilience. There is a growing momentum in initiatives aimed at showcasing women in a confident way and breaking down stereotypes across diverse platforms. Campaigns celebrating diverse body shape, colours and sizes, alongside online communities offering solidarity and assistance, are actively working to establish more secure and inclusive digital environments for women.”

She concluded, “At the same time, there’s a movement towards implementing regulatory measures to uphold social media platforms’ accountability in safeguarding users’ mental well-being. A rising consensus stresses the importance of collective efforts in addressing this pressing concern. By promoting awareness and critical engagement, we can reshape the narrative surrounding social media’s impact on women’s mental health positively.”

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