HealthStacy M. Brown

Facebook, Instagram Shutdown Provides Three-Day Mental Health Break

The three days that shook Facebook may prove a turning point for the social media giant and its applications like Instagram and WhatsApp.

Or they could prove just another glitch in the well-oiled and multi-billion-dollar machine that is Facebook.

But, those three days, particularly Monday, Oct. 4, when people across the globe had their connections, lives and businesses interrupted for hours, at least gave the world a chance to catch their breath. Some said the outage provided a needed mental health break.

“The testimony given by Frances Haugen regarding Facebook’s targeting of adolescents is deeply concerning, as are the results of the studies that have come to light from these Senate hearings showing associations between Facebook and Instagram use and suicidal thoughts in teen users,” observed Dr. James Greenblatt, the chief medical officer of Walden Behavioral Care.

On Sunday, Oct. 3, Haugen, the so-called whistleblower, revealed on national television that Facebook knew of many harms that its services were causing, including that Instagram made teenage girls feel worse about themselves.

At about 11:30 a.m. EST on Monday, Oct. 4, Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp crashed and remained down for hours.

On Tuesday, Oct. 5, Haugen testified before a Senate committee about Facebook’s practices.

Some opined that those three days provided some sort of reckoning for the company.

“Coupled with a growing body of peer-reviewed scientific evidence that associations between social media use and suicidality are very legitimate, points to a need for serious discussions to take place about how information is presented to those demographics already most vulnerable to an increased risk of suicidal thoughts and actions,” Dr. Greenblatt stated.

Concern for African Americans and other minorities also grew because the documents released by Haugen included studies that show Instagram negatively affects young users’ mental health, particularly girls.

“As with too many other components of the modern health establishment, access to specialized mental healthcare is out of reach for too many minority communities,” Dr. Greenblatt said. “Issues of logistics, health insurance, financial resources and more all stand in the way far too often for many minority community members and this creates a cascade of limitation and failure that ultimately leaves too many in need adrift.”

One of the studies revealed by Haugen showed that 13.5 percent of teen girls said Instagram worsens suicidal thoughts and 17 percent of teen girls said the platform contributes to their eating disorders.

Rohit Bimbra, founder and CEO of Home Healthcare Shoppe, said much of the social media platform’s impact on mental health comes from the fact that it fosters a comparison culture with “influencers” setting trends, standards and ideals.

“These standards often pertain to beauty, fashion and lifestyle – things that tend to be heavily influenced by socioeconomic status,” Bimbra noted.

“Since minority communities remain disproportionately disadvantaged economically, it’s not surprising to see much of the frustration because young minority girls tend to suffer more from mental health problems as they feel pressured to keep up with trends and looks and live like the influencers they see on Instagram,” he said.

The staff of Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) recently established an Instagram account in which they registered as a 13-year-old girl.

The senator reported that soon after his staff established the account, Instagram’s algorithm began recommending that the teen follow extreme dieting accounts like “I have to be thin,” “Eternally starved” and “I want to be perfect.”

“The government should make sure that social media platforms are taking appropriate action when it comes to hate speech and other harmful content,” related Nina Joanna, a productivity expert and founder of Goals Calling, a website that encourages individuals to “believe in your dreams and work for your goals.”

“The government can help by creating new, clearer laws to define hate speech so that it is easier to moderate. It’s important that schools support healthy body image and do their best to tackle racist views before children become adults,” Joanna said.

Dr. Greenblatt interjected that the government could also support nationwide measures on suicide prevention.

“Instead of focusing on developing systems that address already-existing suicidality, we might focus on preventing suicidality in the first place,” he said.

Stacy M. Brown

I’ve worked for the Daily News of Los Angeles, the L.A. Times, Gannet and the Times-Tribune and have contributed to the Pocono Record, the New York Post and the New York Times. Television news opportunities have included: NBC, MSNBC, Scarborough Country, the Abrams Report, Today, Good Morning America, NBC Nightly News, Imus in the Morning and Anderson Cooper 360. Radio programs like the Wendy Williams Experience, Tom Joyner Morning Show and the Howard Stern Show have also provided me the chance to share my views.

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