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How does the media portray mental illness and what effects do

traditional and social media have on young people's mental health?

Myth: Children cant experience mental illness. Fact: According to the Mental Health
Foundation (2016) 10% of children and young people (aged 5-16) have a clinically
diagnosable mental illness. 50% of mental health problems show the first signs before a
person turns 14 (U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, unknown date). In 2011, 194
15-19 year olds in UK committed suicide (Office for National Statistics, 2011 [cited by
YoungMinds, 2016]). Mental illness in young people is a serious issue that needs to be
addressed; 70% of adolescents who experience mental health problems have not received
the appropriate interventions or treatment at the sufficient age (Mental Health Foundation,
2016). In a survey I posted online I asked whether people had experienced mental illness
first-hand. 92.5% of the respondents answered yes and 76% of those said that it was
experienced by them or a family member. Since I am interested in mental illness I have often
searched for movies, documentaries and TV shows with the subject of, or a main character
with a mental illness and I have noticed that in the majority of productions classed under
entertainment media, these two things went hand in hand. It is rare to find a movie in which
the protagonist has a mental illness but the story isnt about that mental illness and their
struggle with it. This made me wonder if portrayals such as these affect young peoples
attitudes towards mental illness; whether they have had personal experience or not.
Additionally, I have been an active user of social media for four years and have witnessed
how attitudes towards mental illness have changed during that time. I am also aware of the
sudden increase in research into what affect social media has on teenagers mental illness
and how the majority of that which is reported explains the negative effects. As a result, I am
curious as to whether this is biased reporting or if there really are no positive outcomes to
using social media. I decided to research how the media portrays mental illness and what
effects traditional and social media have on young peoples mental health for my extended
project; this dissertation explains what I have found during my project and the conclusions I
have reached.
Negatives: traditional media
The media has been found to be the general publics most significant source of information
(Edney 2004 [citing Coverdale et al. 2002; Borinstein, 1992; Kalafatelis & Dowden, 1997;
Philo, 1994]) with television being the most powerful medium. Due to the influential role of
the media it is very easy for the ideas that are portrayed to shape the general publics

attitudes towards those with a mental illness and that consequently affects social behaviour
(Baun, 2009). Edney (2004 [citing Rose 1998; Fiske 1987]) states that it has been found that
some media representations of individuals with mental illness are so powerful they can
override personal experiences of (someones experience) with their own or others mental
illnesses; causing perceptions to change. In a survey I created to research how teenagers
perceive mental illnesses to be portrayed in traditional and social media, one of the
questions I asked was How do you feel mental illnesses are portrayed in the [traditional]
media? Out of the 146 respondents, aged 13 to 21, 54.1% said they were romanticised,
35.6% said they were exaggerated and only 10.3% thought that media depictions were
accurate. The majority of evidence that I have found supported the views of the 52 people
who perceived the medias depictions of mental illnesses to be exaggerated.
There are certain prevailing stereotypes that are used to characterise those with a mental
illness in entertainment media. Wahl (2001, cited in Edney, 2004) talks about a study of 300
U.S. newspaper articles that referenced mental illness, conducted by George Mason
University in Virginia which revealed that few articles present positive images of individuals
with mental illness. Other studies have confirmed that the majority of media portrayals of
those with mental illness are negative and many present false information; this has led
researchers to conclude that, due to media presentations, the public are likely to assume
that those with mental illnesses are burdens to society and incapable of contributing
anything positive to the communities to which they belong (Edney 2004 [citing Wahl 2001]).
The main stereotype portrayed by the media is that those with mental illness are violent and
often behave in a criminal way. Edney (2004, citing Cutcliffe & Hannigan, 2001) explains a
1993 study performed by Glasgow University that revealed, out of 562 newspapers, 62% of
stories focused on violent behaviour conducted by a person with mental illness towards
others. Rose (1998, cited in Edney, 2004) found that only 10% of stories in news media were
related to violence and criminality; compared to the proportion of news stories which
mentioned violence and criminality in relation to someone with a psychiatric diagnosis
(almost two thirds). (This shows that the reason the media choose to mostly relate violent
crime with mental illness is not due to news media being dominated by violent crime.)
Research shows that in reality only 3-5% of violent acts can be associated with individuals
living with mental illness and that those with severe mental illnesses are actually over 10
times as likely to be victims of violent crime than members of the general public (ASPA,
Violence is also a common theme related to mental illness in entertainment media.
Signorielli (1989) as cited in Diefenbach (1997) and Edney (2004) found that 72.1% of
characters in TV dramas with a diagnosed or inferred mental illness were perpetrators of
violent crime, injuring or even killing others. It was found that characters with a mental illness

were almost ten times more violent than neurotypical characters and during a two-week
programming sample were ten to twenty times more violent than those in real life, with a
diagnosed mental health disorder, are in a year (Edney 2004). Steadman et al. (1998 [cited
in Edney, 2004]) states that those with a mental illness are no more likely to commit violent
crime than anyone else; unless they have a history of recurrent substance abuse. There is
no reason for mental illness to be so strongly correlated with violence in the media, since
there is strong evidence supporting the claim that those with a mental disorder dont have
any more of a disposition to commit violent crime than those without.
Relating violence to problems with mental health is very damaging and is directly linked to
the stigma surrounding mental illness. It is very unlikely that random members of the general
public are at risk of harm by those with a mental illness. The few cases of violence that are
directly linked to someone with a mental illness are directed at family members, or those to
which the perpetrator has a close relationship (Arboleda-Flrez et al. 1996 [cited in Edney
2004]) and very rarely are those acts of violence committed against a stranger. A study by
the Glasgow University Media Group supports the belief that people who perceived there to
be a strong relation between violence and mental health derived the majority of their
opinions from what they had seen in the media (Edney 2004 [citing Philo 1993]). Such strong
representations of mental illness, the way news media covers a story and the stories told in
entertainment sector, easily override actual events and replace facts with assumptions
(Edney, 2004) and greatly increase negative attitudes which the general public have about
those with a mental illness. Negative and false depictions of mental illness cultivate the
publics damning image of those suffering from a mental health disorder and sustain
oppression and stigma (Allen & Nairn, 1997 [cited in Hottentot, 2000 and Edney 2004]).
Characters with a diagnosed mental illness are usually portrayed as a drain on and unable to
contribute to society (Baun, 2009). It is a common misconception that those with a mental
health disorder are unable to tolerate the stress of holding down a job (ASPA, 2016) and are
less able to perform work related tasks than their neurotypical co-workers. However the
ASPA (2016) website explains that persons with a mental illness are equally as productive
as those without and employers report good attendance and motivation, of employees with a
known mental illness, as being on a par with or even greater than the employees without.
Olstead (2002 as cited in Edney, 2004) argues that representing characters with mental
illnesses as one-dimensional and separate from society supports the view that they are
subhuman. Edney (2004 citing Wilson et al., 1999) states that 67% of characters identifying
as mentally ill in prime-time TV dramas were portrayed as unproductive failures and 55% of
these characters were asocial, lacking any close relationships and were generally perceived
to be a burden on society. This view is more damaging to those with a mental illness as it
perpetrates the idea that speaking up about a mental illness will just annoy those around

them and cause them to become a nuisance to family and friends. This view, especially in
those prone to or diagnosed with anxiety, will prevent mentally ill persons from speaking out
and getting treatment.
There is a theme of characters with mental illnesses being portrayed as simple-minded and
childlike which contributes further to the idea that they cannot contribute significantly, if at all,
to the community. Edney (2004 [citing Wilson et al. 1999]) states that 43% of characters that
identified as mentally ill lacked the ability to understand everyday adult roles and often
appeared lost and confused. These characters spoke using grammatically simple language
with a childish voice and were portrayed as helpless. Almost always these characters were
being detained and questioned by police about crimes they had little understanding or
recollection of (Edney, 2004). This further supports the stereotype that mental illnesses are
caused by weakness and character flaws. Mental health problems arent related to
personality and have nothing to do with weakness or a childlike mentality and are actually
caused by various biological and social factors including genes and history of abuse (U.S.
Department of Health & Human Services, no date).
In news media the content of reports relating to mental illness vary with social class (Edney
2004). Olstead (2002, cited by Edney, 2004) examined Canadian newspaper stories and
analysed the differences in representations relating to class. He discovered that diagnoses
and what the articles focused on depended on the subject's socio-economic background.
When the subject was middle class the diagnosis was usually depression with focus being
on occupation, high profile affiliations and privilege. 48% of the stories in which the person
with mental illness was poor the diagnosis was schizophrenia, which leads to social isolation
due to the heavier stigma surrounding the illness. Only 14% of stories concerning middleclass individuals reported the behaviours of the individuals, which contrasts the 62% of
stories where the subject is poor. Of these stories 89% went into detail about the behaviour
of the person with
mental illness and the emphasis was on the violence of their actions, this leads readers to
assume that mental illness and criminality directly link to poverty; isolating readers and
creating a further social divide.
There is also a difference between the way media portray mentally ill adults and children
suffering from the same disorders. OKeeffe et al. (2012) states that TV portrayal is less
favourable to children and adolescents, citing Henson et al. (no date) OKeeffe reveals that
themes were more negative with young people represented as dangerous and threatening in
11% of the items studied and only 8% of items relating to children provided information on
available resources. The portrayals also differ between print media and TV. OKeeffe et al.
(2012) described newspaper articles as more favourable towards children than adults; child
mental health difficulties were more likely to be in articles that focused on research,

treatment and services. However, these articles tended to have an anti-medication theme
using exaggerated language such as drugged to the eyeballs (pg 1).
There is a significant lack of a distinct diagnosis when it comes to reports about persons with
mental illness and the subject tends to be generalised using terms such as mentally ill or
crazy (Edney 2004). These descriptions dehumanise and reduce the person of focus down
to their behaviours and symptoms. As well as this Edney (2004, citing Coverdale et al. 2002;
Wilson et al. 1999) says that such generalised descriptions can lead to the public associating
such behaviours exclusively with mental illness when there could be numerous reasons why
a person could be acting in such a manner; as an example erratic and unpredictable
behaviour may be due to substance abuse. When reporting about someone with a mental
illness it is important for a direct and accurate diagnosis to be mentioned; so that
misconceptions are avoided and the chance of increased or sustained stigma is reduced.
In entertainment media characters with a mental illness tend to be portrayed as onedimensional, their stories main focus is their diagnosis and it makes up their entire
personality. For example in the movie Girl, Interrupted (1999) Susanna Kaysens personality
traits are largely dependent on her diagnosis of borderline personality disorder and all of her
actions in the film directly relate to her illness including her promiscuity, self-indulgent nature
and laziness. This causes the character to be defined by her illness, the film starts with her
suicide attempt and subsequent diagnosis and ends with her recovery, this almost suggests
that everything before she was diagnosed was a side effect of her illness and everything
after is not worth mentioning. I have seen several posts online that relate to people with
mental illness feeling as though their personality is at least partially made up of their illness,
especially those who have been diagnosed as children. In a 24 hour poll I posted on twitter I
posed the question If you have a mental illness do you feel as though that illness defines
your personality and who you are as a person? I provided the options of yes, no and
partially. Out of the 417 people who voted 52% answered that they feel as though their
mental illness partially defines who they are. Two people elaborated on their choice saying
that their anxiety has the biggest effect on their personality. Kai explained that my
depression doesnt define me but my social anxiety 100% does and @telethrone replied to
my poll saying it doesnt define my personality but it affects it to some degree, elaborating
by saying that they wouldnt be as quiet if they didnt have depression and that their mental
illness causes them to fear intimacy. I was surprised that the option of yes got the
smallest percentage of the votes
(22%), I was expecting a larger percentage of people to choose this option due to what I
have seen expressed before online. @sftbabys response to the lack of yes votes was,
hardly anyone has voted yes , cant relate expressing that they feel as though they are
defined by their mental illness and feel separate to those who arent. @legjoon tweeted as a
reply; Its like it affects everything I do, so in a way it does become me. Something like that.

These results make me think that there needs to be more characters that enforce the idea
that mental illness doesnt define someones personality. The lack of role models for
teenagers with mental illness means that they arent told that symptoms and side effects of
mental illness arent who they are and that they can break away from that stereotype.
Mind, a UK Mental Health charity (cited in Baun, 2009) surveyed 515 people suffering from a
range of mental health disorders to gain insight into their views on how media portrayal
affected them. 50% of participants answered that negative media coverage had a direct
effect on their mental health with 34% saying that it was the cause of an increase in their
depression or anxiety. 113 (22%) of the participants expressed that they felt more withdrawn
and experienced further isolation as a result of media coverage and close to 25% said that
theyd experienced hostile behaviour from neighbours. Wahl argues that stigma is a trigger
for discrimination and creates barriers that stop those with a mental illness from accessing
basic opportunities and facilities such as decent housing and employment.
When it comes to the association between suicidal behaviour and media exposure the two
phenomena used to describe the relationship: the Werther effect (Gould, 2001 [cited in Leon
et al., 2014]) and the Papageno effect (Nierdekrotenhaler et al. 2010). Gould (2001 [as cited
in Leon et al.,2001]) writes that the Werther effect refers to the direct causal relationship
between media exposure of a suicide and the subsequent increase of suicidal behaviour in
the population, whereas the Papageno effect occurs when suicidal behaviour decreases due
to media exposure of a suicide event (Siask & Vrni, 2012 [cited in Leon et al., 2014]) such
as Kurt Cobains suicide where the suicide rate decreased one week after the singers death
compared to the same week the year before and the year following (Leon et al., 2014 [citing
Jobes et al., 2006). In a research paper, Leon et al. (2014) looked into how media coverage
of two suicide events in Ottawa, Daron Richardson and Jamie Hubley, affected paediatric
mental health emergency department presentations in the Ottawa region. They found that
after Daron Richardsons death in November 2010 the number of teenagers (aged 12-18)
that presented to the emergency department with a complaint related to mental health or
that received a diagnosis of a mental illness for that month increased by 119% compared to
November 2009 and in the month of Jamie Hubleys death, October 2011, there was 59%
increase compared to the same month in 2010. Both of these cases received further media
attention after the initial report of their suicide. Another local suicide in January 2012
received no further media coverage after the initial report; in this case the frequencies of
mental health presentations to the emergency department decreased by 5% compared to
the same month the year before (Leon et al., 2014). This suggests that long term media
coverage was the reason mental health presentations increased following Jamie Hubley and
Daron Richardsons suicides and that it helped to increase awareness of youth mental health
and willingness to seek help. Leon et al. (2014) discusses that one possible reason for the
difference between the percentage increase after Darons suicide and the percentage

increase after Jamies may be due to the differences in media speculation around the
causes of each. There was a strong emphasis on
mental illness in Darons case compared to Jamies which focused on bullying and the
struggles that gay teenagers face, which meant that there was a much stronger chance of
the local community being sensitised to mental illness in youths after Darons death.
Positives: traditional media
From the research I have done over the duration of my project I have found that positive
portrayals of people with mental illness are a lot less common than those that are negative.
As well as this, positive doesnt always mean that they are accurate; positive representations
that are overly sympathetic can have negative effects on those suffering from mental illness.
Presenting a mentally ill character in an overly sympathetic way doesnt contribute to the
education of the general public and instead hinders the understanding of mental illness and
the people living with them (Edney, 2004). Wahl (1995 [cited in Edney, 2004]) explains that
inaccurate information, even when positive, leads to misunderstandings and a delay in
receiving treatment. Family members whose relative doesnt show symptoms similar to what
theyve associated to that illness due to media depictions may lose confidence and begin to
doubt the diagnosis (Edney, 2004 [citing Wahl, 1995]). Romanticising mental illness may
also lead to a watered-down view, resulting in misconceptions about the severity of
symptoms and the suffering involved causing people to not take those with a mental health
diagnosis seriously.
In a study conducted by the Illinois Institute of Technology (Morris et al., 2012) it was proven
that the media can actively reduce the stigma that surrounds mental illness through
education of the general public using public service announcements, movies and videos.
25% of the anti-stigma programmes they examined were aimed at teenagers. When Morris
et al. (2012) examined their results they found that education was significantly more effective
at improving attitude to those with mental illness among teenagers. Adolescents are more
easily influenced due to their belief not being as firmly developed as most adults beliefs.
Compared to adults, teenagers were proven to have more room for change since their
attitudes showed more variance in response to anti-stigma methods (Morris et al., 2012).
The idea of educating the general public, mainly teenagers, through the media by providing
accurate information is also mentioned by Leon et al. (2014), the study suggests that factual
coverage of youth suicides sensitises the community to mental health issues meaning the
public are more aware of the symptoms and as a result make it easier for mental illnesses to
be identified and help to be sought. Another point mentioned by Morris et al. (2012) is that
similarity between the subject and the audience is needed for it to be effective; teenagers
reacted more when the subject was close to their age. However, as previously referred to,
OKeeffe et al. (2012) found that TV portrayal is less favourable to children and adolescents

than it is to adults. If attitudes are to be improved then this needs to be changed and the
media should put considerable effort into making TV portrayals of youth diagnosed with a
mental illness more accurate and more positive.
Research into the effects of watching Dr Phil done by Rasmussen & Ewoldsen (2016)
showed that watching TV mental health professionals can increase a parents intention to
seek treatment for their child. It was found that viewers formed a parasocial relationship, a
set of feelings developed towards characters by a viewer as though they know them (Eyal &
2006 [cited in Rasmussen & Ewoldsen, 2016]), with professionals on TV. This relationship
causes the viewers to respond to TV mental health professionals in the same way as they
would respond to one in real life. The results of the study showed that there is a positive
correlation between consistent exposure to the programme and viewers intentions to seek
mental health treatment for their children, both through the development of a parasocial
relationship and parents perceptions of the effectiveness of seeking treatment as
encouraged by Dr Phil (Rasmussen & Ewoldsen, 2016). This study provides evidence that
mental health programming that reaches a large audience may be related to the
development of a parasocial doctor-patient relationship which influences the belief that
viewers can successfully treat a mental illness and, as a result, lead to intentions to seek
that treatment for their child (Rasmussen & Ewoldsen, 2016).
Negatives: social media
Google defines social media as websites and applications that enable users to create and
share content or participate in social networking. It is a much more recent tool for finding
information than traditional media is and is much more interactive as it allows for direct
sharing of content and interaction between multiple users. A report done by Ofcom (2016)
shows that 74% of children aged 12-15 have one or more active social media profiles,
including: Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, WhatsApp and YouTube. 46% of these children access
their SNS profiles 2-10 times a day and 28% access them more than 10 times daily.
In the survey I carried out, 100% of the 146 people that responded use at least one form of
social media. The most popular site amongst the respondents of my survey was Twitter,
used by 95.2% with Instagram being the second most popular with 79.5% of respondents
using it. When asked the question How do you feel mental illnesses are portrayed online?
54.8% answered that they were romanticised and 32.9% felt they were portrayed factually (a
22.6% increase compared to the same answer for traditional media). On a scale of 1-5 with
1 being rarely and 5 being every day that people saw mental illnesses mentioned online,
32.2% answered 4 and 28.1% answered 3, showing that mental illnesses are mentioned
often online and those mentions reach a large number of people.

From my own observations I have concluded that portrayals of mental illness on social
media are a mix of romanticised and factual and, although romanticising mental illness is
now broadly condemned online it still occurs. The number of posts treating mental illnesses
such as depression and anorexia nervosa as an aesthetic and tragically beautiful have
fallen over the four years that I have been using social media and are now mostly confined
to Tumblr. When I first started using social media in 2012 pro-ana blogs, blogs which
promote anorexia or bulimia and encourage those with the illness to abstain from seeking
help, were common. They usually consisted of grayscale photos of girls with skinny legs or
visible ribs tagged #thinspo or #thinspiration, even now searching thinspo on Google will
bring up multiple pro-ana Tumblr sites and countless images. Tumblr also had several blogs
that were created purely for the purpose of reblogging and posting images of self-harm with
sad quotes or lyrics written across them promoting self-harm as a kind of aesthetic. There
was a trend at one point of promoting the idea that boys would kiss girls self-harm scars if
they were in a relationship which encouraged the idea that this was an ideal instead of
condemning it as something
dangerous. As well as this, the internet rarely talks about mental illnesses that are rarer and
cant be twisted into something beautiful, such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
However, I have seen posts highlighting this issue and raising awareness for these illnesses
because they deserve as much recognition and validation as other, more common illnesses
like depression and anxiety.
Memes are defined by Google as an image, video, piece of text etc., typically humorous in
nature that is copied and spread rapidly by Internet users. It has become common for
memes to have the subject of depression, anxiety or suicide; for example, @CosN0 (2016)
tweeted Stop making jokes about violently killing yourself. It makes others uncomfortable.
Weve talked about this. with a picture of a man looking at himself in the mirror attached and
@bootaytaytay (2016) posted on Instagram Doctor: Im sorry but you have 3 months left to
live Me: *slides a $5 bill across the table* Make it 1 month. These memes tend to get
thousands of retweets or likes and makes it appear as though mental illnesses are
something humorous instead of something that is seriously damaging. It is also common for
people on SNS to say that they will kill themselves as a reaction to something bad that has
happened which further encourages the idea that suicide is not a serious problem that needs
to be addressed. However, from my observations, I have seen that there appears to be an
understanding that mental illnesses are serious and that these memes are posted by people
who are experiencing mental illnesses themselves, as a form of coping with their illness.
Samakow & Leibovich (2013 [cited in Solecki & Hillier, 2015) apply the term Facebook
depression the phenomena that result from teenagers spending excessive amounts of time
on social networking sites. Solecki & Hillier (2015 [citing Tanner, 2011]) explain that in well-

adjusted young people SNS can heighten social connectedness but in those prone to
depression it has a negative effect due to social media providing a skewed view of reality
and they are at risk of a decrease in mood and life satisfaction (Kross et al., 2013 [cited by
Solecki & Hillier, 2015]). People can pick and choose which experiences they share on social
media and therefore teenagers cannot judge how good someones life is in reality, causing
them to feel bad about their own lives leading to low mood.
Singleton et al. (2016) researched into the perceptions of young people, who have mental
health difficulties, on social media and how it linked to their psychological experiences. SNS
offer access to personal information and a persons activities to a great number of people,
known and unknown (Singleton et al., 2016). The debate about whether SNS damage or
strengthen social relationships is ongoing; they have been found to impair parent-child
communication but allow some people the opportunity to experience social support that
wouldnt be available for them to access without SNS. There is a correlation between social
media use and psychological distress in young people; for example, low self-esteem (Mller
et al, 2016 [cited in Singleton et al., 2016]), depressive symptoms (Singleton et al., 2016
citing Feinstein et al., 2013), self-harming and suicidal ideation (Lewis et al., 2012 as cited in
Singleton et al., 2016). However, SNS have also been associated with various positive
outcomes such as, increased creativity, self-expression (Singleton et al., 2016 [citing Collin
et al., 2011]) and relationships with groups that were previously inaccessible (Ahn & Shin,
2012 [cited in Singleton et al., 2016]).
Learning Theories (2016) defines the online disinhibition effect as describing the loosening
of social restrictions and inhibitions that are normally present in face-to-face interactions that
takes place in interactions of the Internet. It is closely related to the anonymous nature to
social networking sites. I have witnessed this effect myself; people with Twitter accounts that
are accessible to people that the owner knows in real life tend to share less information
than those whose accounts contain no personal information and are not followed by friends.
The relative anonymity that the internet provides encourages numerous risks, including
grooming, exposure to sexual content, surveillance in romantic relationships and
cyberbullying (Singleton et al., 2016 [citing Muise et al., 2009; Staksrud et al., 2013).
Cyberbullying is increased due to the perpetrators being allowed to remain anonymous,
disinhibition and also because there is no way for the bully to witness the victim's response
causing the deindividualisation of the victim (Cassidy et al., 2013 [cited in Singleton et al.,
2016]). Hamm et al. (2015, as cited in Singleton et al., 2016) explains that research suggests
that one in four adolescents have experienced some form of cyberbullying and these
experiences have been linked to depression, anxiety, severe social isolation and suicidal
thoughts (Singleton et al., 2016 [citing Hamm et al., 2015; Hinduja & Patchin, 2010]).

All of the young people that participated in the study done by Singleton et al. (2016)
described themselves as being constantly signed in to their social media accounts. All of the
participants had an awareness that their profiles, and consequently they, are visible to
friends, family and unknown users which presents the challenge of being judged by those
people for the information that they share. It was found that most young people received
judgement from those that they knew offline. For example, one participant in the study (Nina,
aged 13) had a boy threaten to throw acid down her throat after she expressed interest in a
different boy online. Others received judgement specifically aimed towards their mental
health, Ben (aged 16) was quoted in Singleton et al. (2016) explaining that hes received
threats such as just end your life instead of just saying you want to (pg 397). Judgement
and threats were also received from unknown users especially when sharing an opinion on
something. Singleton et al. (2016) described how receiving likes and retweets were also
perceived by young people in the study to be forms of judgement. The lack of these forms of
approval cause young people to become self-conscious and more aware of how they could
be perceived by others. Even receiving likes was seen as a form of judgement (Singleton et
al., 2016) as teenagers will compare the amount of likes received on two different posts and
wonder why people liked one more than the other and change themselves depending on
which flaws they identify. Young people seemed to take the judgement personally and
related it to their popularity, attractiveness and intelligence instead of looking at the situation
rationally and considering how many people had actually seen the pictures.
Solecki & Hillier (2015 [citing PEW Research Centre, 2013]) wrote that 91% of teenagers
have posted a photo of themselves online. Heavy Facebook use has been linked to low selfesteem and narcissism (Gregoire, 2015 [cited in Solecki & Hillier, 2015]) and selfies may
lead to depression and self-harm due to teenagers comparing themselves to others and
wanting to get a perfect picture of themselves (Solecki & Hillier, 2015). The increasing
popularity of SNS is making young people more focused on their appearance meaning selfobjectification is becoming a bigger problem (Solecki & Hillier, 2015). Offline social
comparison is common in teenagers, seeing someone else and comparing yourself to them
is an almost automatic
process in some (Singleton et al., 2016). However, social networking sites have encouraged
an exaggerated version of this offline comparison. Young people are able to study others
pictures up close and for extended periods of time without breaking face-face societal rules
causing them to notice more and analyse what they lack in comparison to others (Singleton
et al., 2016). Although the study by Singleton et al. (2016) found that teenagers were aware
of this happening and the impact such comparisons had on their mood and mental health,
the teenagers also described how it was difficult to resist the process.
Teenagers were also aware of how they compared their social media use to that of others
negatively. Those who participated in the study said that they considered some people who

expressed feeling suicidal or low as attention seekers, only wanting people to reply with
sympathetic comments describing them as disgusting and unnecessary (Singleton et al.,
2016). However, in the same Singleton et al. (2016) study these teenagers described posting
numerous tweets to draw attention from friends in the same way when feeling low, they also
had the same hypocritical views of others who valued likes deeming them as pathetic
despite equally valuing likes. This hypocritical judgement of others on social media promotes
further social isolation as teenagers are unlikely to associate with those that they view with
negative attitudes. Social comparison and direct judgement, from and to others, leads to
young peoples belief that they are not okay which is associated with anxiety and low mood
which leads to young people finding strategies to cope with this (Singleton et al., 2016).
Social media creates a self-awareness in teenagers that wouldnt occur naturally at the
same level and insecurity stems from this self-awareness. Singleton et al. (2016) explains
that insecurity encourages young people to create and present a socially acceptable
version of themselves; posting more openly when happy and more cryptically about difficult
experiences, which consequently leads to further insecurity concerning how others would
perceive them if they strayed from this crafted personality.
Due to their previous experiences of being judged and receiving threats young people felt
anxious about further threat, one participant in the Singleton et al. (2016) study described
her need to check her phone regularly as compulsive and compared it to an addiction.
Some of the teenagers had attempted to delete or leave their social media profiles but soon
returned, and when told to block someone giving them abuse, they explained how it wasnt
as easy as that because they wanted to know what that person was saying about them
(Singleton et al., 2016). Experiences of being threatened and judged also lead teenagers to
feeling low or taking things personally and for several this low mood was associated with
self-harm being used as a coping mechanism (Singleton et al., 2016). As well as this
Singleton et al. (2016) describes how teenagers, as a result, can be directly influenced by
others posts to participate in damaging behaviours; seeing others explain that they used
self-harm as a coping method and that it made them feel better caused teenagers to try it.

Positives: social media

I have seen numerous posts and hashtags on social media that raise awareness for mental
illness and also provide numbers for suicide hotlines in various countries. Singleton et al.
(2016) mentions that several of the teenagers involved in their study talked about the
benefits of educational videos and mental health awareness programmes on social media.
have also posted about safe alternatives to self-harm and calming websites or gifs that can
help regulate breathing for those that suffer from anxiety disorders. Trigger warnings became

a widely used thing on social media a couple of years ago and are designed to protect those
who can be caused to have a panic attack or violent reaction to pictures or descriptions of
certain things. Twitter posts will contain tw [trigger] so that those who are triggered by that
subject can know to scroll past that tweet and Tumblr posts will be tagged in the same
format so that users can blacklist certain words and ensure that triggering posts will never
appear on their dashboards. Accounts will have a post that asks people to tag certain things
so that those users can be kept safe. However, this has received some backlash and people
will use the excuse that there are no trigger warnings in the real world so that they dont
have to tag their posts. As well as this, being triggered has become a joke due to some
people exaggerating what they are triggered by or even making up triggers to come across
as vulnerable and triggers are not taken seriously. Those who genuinely are triggered by
certain things are made to seem pathetic.
Singleton et al. (2016) explain that social media can be used for coded or safe sharing.
When teenagers identities are known by others they are more careful about the information
that they share and they use a form of code to share their negative experiences and when
posting about negative emotions teenagers will often use song lyrics they can relate to
because it increases the feeling of anonymity. One teenager interviewed described that there
is a sense of moral support when people favourite or like coded posts, and another
explained that when he sees other people post about feeling low it shows that thousands of
people all over the world have the same experiences; this helps to reassure young people
that they are not alone and provides a sense of belonging (Singleton et al., 2016). Coded
and safe sharing also allows young people to talk about experiences or emotions that they
would usually keep to themselves which helps to relieve the stress of a mental illness.
Young people also reported that SNS use helped them to form and maintain important
relationships. Those who suffered socially offline and struggled with face-to-face
communication are allowed the experience of having multiple close friendships with people
they can relate to. Connecting with people with similar experiences provided a coping
strategy and allowed for better management of emotions. For example, one teenager in the
Singleton et al. (2016) study described that she has a friend online that she talks to when
feeling triggered who helps to calm her down. There are also specific forms of support
provided by social media sites; for example, Tumblr has a chat feature that is activated when
you search depressing pictures and it allows you to talk to trained people about your
problems. Teenagers spoke about the benefits of feeling visible when they posted about their
experiences even if no one responded, describing how writing in a diary felt pointless
because no one would ever see it but when they posted on SNS they know people are going
to see it (Singleton et al., 2016). The teenagers involved in the study highlighted how sharing
feelings with strangers was preferable because they could not take the same action as
parents (Singleton et al., 2016). When talking to an online friend that has similar experiences

they knew that the reaction they would receive would be more moderate, parents may take
away anything that they think is negatively affecting their childs health and try to force them
to get professional help, but people online will not push them to seek help if they express
that they arent ready to discuss it.
Social media can also be used as an anti-stigma tool. Livingston et al. (2014) evaluated a
social media intervention for raising awareness of mental illness and improving attitudes of
young people towards mental health issues. The evaluation revealed that social media is an
effective mechanism for reducing stigma shown by the reduction in personal stigma and
social distance after the intervention (Livingston et al., 2014). However, Livingston et al.
(2014) discovered that campaigns must be long term if stigma is to be decreased
permanently. Exposure to the campaign grew over the course of the campaign and
continued to grow even after it had ended because the online material such as the public
service announcement videos remained accessible and continued to receive public attention
and even triggered the creation of other anti-stigma programmes (Livingston et al., 2014).
It is very clear to me that traditional media such as tv news and film, have a significant
negative effect on both the general public and those with mental illnesses. The combination
of how easily influenced teenagers are by the media (Morris et al.,2012) and portrayals of
children with mental illness being less positive than those of adults (OKeeffe et al., 2012)
mean that children with mental illnesses own experiences are overridden by media
representations which encourages personal stigma. As well as this due to media
representations of those with a mental illness being confined to the same negative
stereotypes, violent criminal and societal drain, stigma towards mental illness has been
generated amongst the general public (Edney 2004). This stigma has caused people to have
negative reactions to those with mental illness and promotes discrimination due to prejudice
amongst adults. These negatives attitudes are then picked up on by their children and this
consequently causes teenagers with mental illness to be wary about sharing their problems
and seeking help. Although TV mental health professionals can cause adults to develop the
intention to seek mental health treatment through the formation of a parasocial relationship,
it is not significant enough to outweigh the negative effects that the media has caused. There
is research that proves the media could be used to effectively reduce stigma (Morris et
al.,2012) and raise awareness (Leon et al. 2014) due to the influence it has, especially on
teenagers. There is no evidence to suggest that any plans to implement any stigma
reduction methods using the media have been made and therefore it cannot be used as
proof of positive effects that the media has and instead can only be considered as a future

Social media is a lot more balanced when it come to positively or negatively affecting
teenagers with mental illness. Posts romanticising mental illnesses were common on
websites, such as Tumblr, but the number of posts that actually represent mental illness as
beautiful or actively promote mental illness has seemingly reduced. This shows an
improvement in the attitudes that those suffering from mental illness have towards
themselves, this may be as a result of the apparent increase of posts that provide
information about and advice on mental illness. Trigger warnings have made SNS safer for
those with mental illness, allowing them to safely use social media without having to worry
about their mental illness. However, triggers are not always taken seriously due to previous
exaggerations or false claims, meaning teenagers with mental illness still have to have some
caution when accessing social media. Social media has also increased the risk of
cyberbullying which is directly linked to depression
and anxiety. Posts about experiences with self-harm used as a coping mechanism can
cause others to imitate that behaviour in hopes of achieving the same effect (Singleton et al.,
2016). As well as this, SNS can have a significant effect on teenagers self esteem and, as a
result, encourage self-objectification (Solecki & Hillier, 2015) and social comparison
(Singleton et al., 2016) which can lead to further self-esteem issues, low mood and selfharming. In contrast, social media can also encourage safe sharing meaning teenagers feel
visible and allow them to find others they can relate to. SNS also provides those with
difficulty socialising with peers they have face-to-face interaction with and the opportunity to
experience multiple friendships which can provide them with support and advice that would
not be available to them otherwise (Singleton et al., 2016).

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