By Carly Shapiro, AWARE® Intern
You visit a cool new place, go on an adventure with friends or you eat something that looks great with that lo-fi filter. What next? Post to Instagram? Tweet? Update your status on Facebook? Sharing our life events on social media has become an ordinary part of our lives. Everywhere we turn, there is a way to connect with friends and get an update on the happy, positive events in your friends’ lives.
Although social media can be a great way to connect with others and see what they are up to, it can be difficult to understand how people really feel or what they are truly experiencing by just looking at someone’s social media site. This was the case with University of Pennsylvania student, Madison Holleran, whose friends did not realize how much she was suffering on the inside.
Because Madison posted happy pictures on her Instagram regularly, it was hard for friends and family to understand the extent of the mental health issues she endured from the start of college. Madison was a strong student and great athlete, who excelled at Penn. Despite her successes, she felt overwhelmed and anxious about the possibility of failing at both, according to an ESPN article. However, Madison’s Instagram posts seemed to indicate that she was enjoying her time at college. While Madison may have realized that the photos she posted on Instagram were not an accurate depiction of her happiness, she may have also felt alone when scrolling through her friends’ pictures. The night Madison committed suicide, she posted a beautiful picture of trees and street lights from Philadelphia’s Rittenhouse Square on Instagram that did not indicate anything was wrong to her friends or family.
Madison’s story emphasizes how teens and young adults often portray an image on social media that does not reflect the struggles and issues they may be experiencing. There is a growing pressure to always portray a carefree, “lovin’-life” image. Social media can be a platform to edit one's image and hide the issues one does not want others to know about. Seeing friends having fun and celebrating their successes may make someone feel alone. How can you share your challenges with your friends who are enjoying themselves? It can be easier to only see a friend's filtered, online life and harder to recognize when a friend needs help in real life.
Similar to hiding mental health struggles with smiling selfies and happy Instagram posts, teens and young adults experiencing dating abuse can post numerous couple pics and posts which hide the abuse they are experiencing. It is important for us to consider the role social media can play in our everyday lives and the struggles that may not be apparent on social media. Victims of dating abuse are often afraid to talk to someone about the abuse they are experiencing and most keep the abuse a secret from friends and family members. Though it is difficult to spot red flags on social media because of its filtering effect, there are red flags, such as changes in behavior or loss of interest in activities they once loved that we can look for when talking to friends in-person or online. Once we learn to recognize the signs, then we can let our friends know we are here for them.