■ JULIO LORENZO VILLEGAS

Being a university student in today’s fast-paced world is an experience that is both stressful and fulfilling at the same time. It is amazing to think that we can access all of human knowledge in a matter of a few swipes while also managing to keep in contact with thousands of people all over the world. In a time wherein technology is improving everyday and information is moving faster than ever, it has unfortunately become a common practice to neglect our own health.

Social Media in the Philippines

In a report released last February by London based consultancy agency We Are Social, the Philippines again topped the world in terms of social media usage. They claim that Filipinos spend an average of 3 hours and 57 minutes a day on social media sites, mainly Facebook. There are 67 million accounts on Facebook in the Philippines and that another 10 million Filipinos were on Instagram. Overall, Filipinos spend 9 hours and 29 minutes a day on the internet, based on this same 2018 report. More than half of the entire Filipino population accesses the internet using a mobile device.

With these statistics in mind, it is safe to say that social media isn’t going anywhere. It has steadily become a phenomenon that has penetrated all aspects of our lives and has become almost a necessity in student life due to how much it streamlines communication.

Mental Health

Mental health has become somewhat of a buzzword lately on social media, but what exactly is it? Essentially mental health refers to a person’s general psychological and emotional-well being. The state of someone’s mental health, just like physical health, is affected by many different factors; both internal and external. This aspect of mental health is often overlooked and we fail to realize that many of our small lifestyle choices do affect our mental health (the same way that we don’t realize how unhealthy a fast food burger is when we eat it).

Whenever we go online on social media, we forego a little bit of privacy and put ourselves out there. We essentially socialize with hundreds of different people at once over our screens. We are subjected to the same stressors and stimuli that affect face-to-face socialization, albeit with a barrier. The core principles behind communicating online and providing people with a glimpse into your life are good, and I believe it is safe to say that easy access to these platforms has changed the world for the better.

That being said, it isn’t all positive motherly statements. A growing body of research demonstrates that heavy consumption of social media is linked to the development of psychiatric disorders. A survey conducted in 2017 by the Royal Society for Public Health in Britain found that people aged 14-24 believe that Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter have detrimental effects on your wellbeing. They claimed that, while these platforms provide extra scope for self-expression and community building; they also exacerbate anxiety and depression, exposed them to cyberbullying, and created worries about their body image. Facebook’s founding president, Sean Parker, has even admitted that their product works by “exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology. An experiment run by neuroscientists in 2014 concluded that Facebook triggers the same impulsive part of the brain as gambling and substance abuse. To oversimplify: we become obsessed with getting likes and comments.

This phenomenon is nothing new. Dr. Max Blumberg, a psychologist, explains that “People have always needed approval because human beings are social creatures, so it’s no coincidence that it’s called social media. There are very few living creatures that can do it on their own and generally one does better in groups, so social media takes the group concept to the extreme, where we can now communicate with each other even more.” This is especially evident among us Filipinos due to our concept of kapwa, which is defined according to the father of modern Filipino Psychology, Vigilio Enriquez, as “shared identity” and “being with others.” We long so much to belong and gain approval that we forget social media is nothing more than a few 1’s and 0’s being processed by computers.

According to the social comparison theory, humans determine their personal self-worth based on how they compare themselves to others around them. When adding social media into the equation, we are then ultimately set up for failure. We have become so focused on creating perfect digital versions of ourselves, based on existing social standards set by other social media users, that we tend to forget all these people are simply broadcasting what they want other people to see. Their feeds and posts are meticulously curated and filtered in order to present an idealized version of their lives. We then become pressured to match up and similarly filter our own posts, causing an endless cycle of setting personal standards and failing to meet them.

“The reason we struggle with insecurity is because cause we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel.”

What can we do?

As I said, our mental health is something we very often overlooked. Being a student living in a fast-paced world can force us to neglect the telling signs of health deterioration. However, that does not mean we are helpless. There are options for seeking help when we feel the need.

  1. Office of Counseling and Guidance – The office of guidance and counseling (OCG) is under the UP Office of the Vice-chancellor for Student Affairs. It is located at room 307-310 of Vinzon’s Hall. They provide free counseling and guidance sessions to students as long as you set an appointment. Reach them at tel. no. 981-8500 loc 4501.
  2. Psychserv – UPD PsycServ or the UP Diliman Psychosocial Services, provides evidence-based, systematic, and humane mental health and psychosocial wellbeing services to its community of students, faculty, and employees for free. They are located at 209B Lagmay Hall and you can reach them at tel. no. 981-8500 loc 2496 or email them at psycserv.upd@up.edu.ph.

With the mental health law being very recently passed, we have no reason to continue neglecting our mental health. Social media, despite not entirely causing mental health issues, is still an aggravating factor that we must keep in check. We must remember that just like everything else, social media is something we must enjoy in moderation. Our lives should not be defined by what we post nor by how many likes we get, and we should instead see social media as a tool to further cultivate our human connections. ■

(Illustration by Ran Martinez.)

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