I was 17 when mobile phones became ubiquitous. My first one was a Motorola with a wheel on the side to scroll through messages. There was no Angry Birds, apps and definitely no social media. I feel lucky to have escaped with childhood memories that live in a box in the attic, not online for anyone seemingly to have a look at.
The effect that our online lives has on our mental health has been well documented. Unsurprisingly, studies have linked prolonged social media use with symptoms of depression, anxiety and low self-esteem. Yet there are others that suggest social media can deliver significant benefits too, helping those in need to build online communities that will provide emotional support.
As we continue to freely share our thoughts, feelings and images on public platforms, what responsibility do these companies have to act on all this information? Facebook may be selling our data to Cambridge Analytica with one hand, yet with the other it’s created a Compassion Department, where professional first responders work alongside AI to monitor users’ mental wellbeing. They’ve even reported to have prevented suicides.
Mental health is not just an issue for social media companies. Anyone who brings images and messages to our screens should be thinking about these silent illnesses. Approximately 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year according to the charity Mind’s website. In England, 1 in 6 people report experiencing a common mental health problem (such as anxiety and depression) in any given week.
The Heads Together campaign, spearheaded by the Royal Foundation, has done a huge amount to bring this invisible issue into the limelight. But brands and institutions could definitely do more to help us feel happy living imperfect lives.
People with mental illness are an extreme version of all of us. Just think, if we design for people with a mental illness, we are designing for the mental wellness of all of us.