Here is the full transcript of Bailey Parnell’s TEDx Talk: Is Social Media Hurting Your Mental Health? at TEDxRyersonU conference.
Listen to the MP3 Audio: Is Social Media Hurting Your Mental Health by Bailey Parnell at TEDxRyersonU
Bailey Parnell – Award-winning digital marketer
I’m fat. Wow, I’m fat.
She’s only nineteen years old, what am I doing with my life? Hey! Two likes! Nice. Do I like this photo? Does she really need more likes? I hope I’m going to be invited to the wedding. One more like, nice!
Welcome to the internal monologue of a typical social media scroll. A monologue that so many of us have every day, but we don’t think about it, we don’t talk about it. In fact, many of us can’t even recognize it happening.
I’m Bailey Parnell, and I will discuss the unintended consequences social media is having on your mental health. I will show you what’s stressing you out every day, what it’s doing to you, and how you can craft a better experience for yourself online.
Just over a year ago, my sister and I took a four-day vacation to Jasper, Alberta. This was the first no-work vacation. I had taken in four years. On this vacation, I was going dark.
I was turning on airplane mode, no email and no social media. The first day there, I was still experiencing phantom vibration syndrome. That’s where you think your phone went off, and you check and it didn’t. I was checking incessantly. I was distracted in conversation.
I was seeing these gorgeous sights Jasper had to offer, and my first reaction was to take out my phone and post it on social. But of course it wasn’t there.
The second day was a little bit easier. You might be thinking I’m ridiculous, but I hadn’t been completely disconnected in over four years. This was practically a new experience again.
It wasn’t until the fourth day I was there that I was finally comfortable without my phone. I was sitting with my sister, literally on the side of this mountain, when I started thinking to myself: “What is social media doing to me? What is it doing to my peers?”
That was only four days, and it was anxiety-inducing, it was stressful and it resulted in withdrawals. That’s when I started to ask questions and have since started my master’s research into this subject. I’ve worked in social marketing primarily in higher education for most of my career. That means I work with a lot of 18- to 24-year-olds, which also happens to be the most active demographic on social media.
The other thing you need to know about me is that I’m young enough to have grown up with social media, but just old enough to be able to critically engage with it in a way that twelve-year-old me probably couldn’t. My life is social media: personally, professionally and academically. If it was doing this to me, what was it doing to everyone else?
I immediately found out I wasn’t alone. The Center for Collegiate Mental Health found that the top three diagnoses on University campuses are anxiety, depression and stress. Numerous studies from the US, Canada, the UK, you name it, have linked this high social media use with these high levels of anxiety and depression.
But the scary thing is that high social media use is almost everyone I know: my friends, my family, my colleagues; 90% of 18- to 29-year-olds are on social media. We spend on average two hours a day there. We don’t even eat for two hours a day. 70% of the Canadian population is on social media.
Our voter turnout isn’t even 70%. Anything we do this often is worthy of critical observation. Anything we spend this much time doing has lasting effects on us.
So let me introduce you to four of the most common stressors on social media, that if go unchecked have potential to become full-blown mental health issues, and this is by no means an exhaustive list.
Number one: the Highlight Reel. Just like in sports, the highlight reel is a collection of the best and brightest moments. Social media is our personal highlight reel. It’s where we put up our wins, or when we look great, or when we are out with friends and family. But we struggle with insecurity because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reels. We are constantly comparing ourselves to others.
Yes, this was happening before social media, with TV and celebrity, but now it’s happening all the time, and it’s directly linked to you. A perfect example I came across in preparation for this talk is my friend on vacation: ‘brb, nap’. ‘Wait, why can’t I afford a vacation? Why am I just sitting here in my PJ’s watching Netflix? I want to be on a beach.’
Here’s the thing, I know her very well. I knew this was out of the ordinary for her. I knew she was typically drowning in schoolwork. But we think, ‘Who wants to see that?’ The highlights are what people want to see. In fact, when your highlights do well, you encounter the second stressor on social media.
Which is number two: Social Currency. Just like the dollar, a currency is literally something we use to attribute value to a good or service. In social media, these likes, the comments, the shares have become this form of social currency by which we attribute value to something. In marketing, we call it the ‘Economy of Attention’. Everything is competing for your attention, and when you give something a like or a piece of that finite attention, it becomes a recorded transaction attributing value.