Presenter: This morning we are here with Dr. med. Katayun Hassanpour to discuss the effects of social media on mental health, particularly among females. Thank you very much Katayun for being with us today.
Katayun Hassanpour: My pleasure.
Presenter: A third of all young women are suffering from anxiety and depression in the UK, Government figures suggest, as experts blame the twenty-four-seven nature of social media. Why do you think this figure is so high?
KH: I’m astonished that this figure is so high actually. I can imagine there is a link to exposure to social media because social media creates ideal images of what a young woman’s, girl’s life should look like; and it also makes young women compare themselves to others.
But all these pictures we see in social media, I mean, this is not real life. All the faces are photoshopped, people work on their body images, everything is tuned. So this creates an artificial world. Also, at some point, reducing the female human being to the body, which is photoshopped and tuned so that it appears in an aesthetic way.
I mean, aesthetic due to nowadays probably. Influenced by fashion trends, or what is quite questionable, actually, because it doesn’t correlate to the female physique. In many ways I think it’s like creating a Barbie image, which is not real life. Putting young women under pressure to look and behave in a completely unrealistic way, which then creates a gap between actual being and what is aimed at being as ideal.
Presenter: Could you explain why you think there is such a direct correlation between incidences of depression and anxiety and social media?
KH: Yes, I think this resulting gap between real life and an artificial world is created by that. That it creates pressure. There’s also a lot of comparison among young females that might cause anxiety. Not being good enough that it affects the self-esteem, self-worth , the feeling of self- worth, not being perfect, not ever being able to be perfect.
Because it’s just unrealistic as it’s not the real world; nobody can look like a photoshopped person, if this is actually what our ideal of beauty is. But there is a great pressure coming from this. I mean, if we look back, for example, to the 50s and 60s, there was a completely different and much more realistic ideal of beauty that was dominating in those days.
Presenter: Then why do you think this link is more prevalent in females and particularly young females?
KH: So why females and not boys, or young men in comparison?
KH: I can only guess, but I could imagine that it’s because the female body has been more exposed to aesthetic approaches, due to cosmetics, fashion, aesthetic surgery. There are also many other things that could be done and implemented, and there’s huge branches of industrial markets that address these wishes and desires of which for young men.
These markets get conquered and addressed with perfumes, with a sports-wear, things like this, but actually, also due to one major point, makeup. Which is not so common in boys and young men. And this makes us change the physical appearance from the natural appearance. And which is, I think, not so much expressed in young men and boys, and there is also less expectation about it.
For boys, I think it’s more to be healthy, to be fit, to work out, to go to the gym, being in shape, not being fat. But there is much more focus on it for young women. There’s a whole world, I think, that is behind that. An industrial market. I mean, just starting with fingernails, there’s a whole industry about all these artificial beauty enhancers; we name it and make up whatever we can imagine, such as hair extensions and lashes.
Presenter: It may happen to men as well, fairly quickly, because I’ve actually been seeing some makeup for men coming up on the market in the last few months. Let’s talk about Plan International. Where a girls rights organisation recently surveyed fourteen-thousand girls and young women between the ages of fifteen and twenty-five, in over twenty-two countries, including the U.S.
It found that one in five girls have left or significantly reduced the use of a social media platform, after being harassed. And one in ten have changed the way they express themselves, due to the abuse they received, Facebook particularly cited. This will have had a mental health knock on effect, would it not?
KH: Yes, I think we need some education and also policies on how to deal with social media, especially in youths/ young adults, because pictures, or photos are exposed on the internet. Also addressing very personal things in life, or to young women or girls exposing their body, maybe also major parts of their body, or being naked or half naked.
And that this data is not secure, that it is not safe, that it can be abused, misused, that it is accessible for so many people. Also being judged by others for very private photos. I think many, many problems rise from this. Exposing photos, so photos that are sent to somebody who’s exposing them on the internet; this is amongst child pornography, this is a crime actually. People who do this, the perpetrators, they get punished for that. Unfortunately there’s such a lack of knowledge and awareness that this is indeed a crime and is punishable. Even young perpetrators, they don’t know. Most are not even aware that this is illegal. Sending a photo of your girlfriend in her underwear to your friends, this is illegal. Quite often among 14 years olds, 13 year olds, 15 year olds without any awareness or common sense, this, I think, happens very often.
Presenter: According to this, another survey by the STV in Scotland, social media and the perception of the perfect lifestyle made anxiety worse in young women. Is it this pressure to be perfect, and to show off. Is it this pressure that is leading to such an increase in figures?
KH: I think it’s a pressure to have the perfect life, to be judged by others if you don’t have the perfect life; if you cannot produce so many photos frequently on Instagram. And also the comparison to others. Comparing yourself to, for example, other young girls or females who maybe look better. Who posts more photos looking better. Giving a better appearance, which is not objective of course, but in their perception.
And I think that comparing yourself all the time to others can lead to anxiety or depression; in a way that someone thinks okay, my life is not that good, I’m not that beautiful, I’m ugly. I don’t have a good life, I don’t have a fancy car, I don’t have the most recent designer handbag. I think this can lead to depressive symptoms and lower self-esteem, a feeling of self-worthlessness.
Presenter: We can see how this pressure to be perfect and show off is a real competition, and particularly for females. So what can young women cut on their social media use to free themselves from such pressures associated with it, in your opinion?
KH: I think, first of all, it’s very important to always keep in mind that this is not the real world. That nobody looks like this, that the photos are photoshopped and tuned, that many people do a lot. Nobody is born like that, people invest a lot of time and money to do little changes in their appearance. And that is, at some point it can be a full time job, looking good or being a model. It’s a full time job. So people work out all day.
And I think, to reduce exposure, and to wean off social media contact, that’s very important and helpful. We already have workshops for managers about digital detox, detoxification from social media. And this is what I highly recommend to people being exposed too much to this competition and unrealistic expectation that can never ever be fulfilled, liberate themselves from these influences.
The only other thing I can recommend to everybody, girl, or boy, independent of the sex. Never ever expose yourself on any digital platform. Don’t post photos that you would not like to see 20 years later. So always be dressed appropriately. Keep in mind if you drink alcohol, if you smoke cigarettes, if you take drugs, if you are half- naked; If you really want these photos to be sent via WhatsApp or whatever digital messenger, these photos stay on the internet. And that this is very, very private. You probably don’t want to see these photos in 10 years, 20 years, maybe even tomorrow.
Presenter: How can their families and loved ones help to wean them off social media, and hence reduce the anxiety and depression of those females?
KH: To my mind, the most helpful thing is to replace virtual life with real life. For children, or for young people to have, maybe certain hours with a smartphone, let’s say half an hour per day, for example. But to replace being on the phone, or being online for hours and hours every day.
Replacing that with real activities, like playing sports, meeting friends, playing an instrument, playing the piano, playing the trumpet, playing drums, reading poetry, reading a book, having a hobby and living your life. Not a virtual life but a real life. Your real life, experiencing things, addressing and noticing your emotions. I think that, to me, this seems to be the most helpful.
Presenter: Thank you very much indeed Katayun. We were here today with Dr. med Katayun Hassanpour, the specialist in Psychiatry and Psychology here at The Kusnacht Practice. We are world leaders in innovative care services. Thank you very much.
KH: Thank you so much, it has been a pleasure.