May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and in this podcast, Father Dave, Brett, and Christina discuss the connection between mental health and social media.
Father Dave brings up an experiment that Instagram is conducting in Canada, in which the number of likes a person’s photo receives is not made public, so only the person who posts the photo is aware of how many likes they get. Instagram says it’s using this experiment to remove the anxiety and social pressure people feel about the amount of likes a post acquires.
Brett and Christina explain this particular kind of anxiety to Father Dave, who says that he doesn’t really pay attention to the number of likes he obtains on social media. They tell him that a person liking your photo is a sign of affirmation, and since everybody can see how many people “like” you, it hurts when you don’t get enough likes. Brett describes this phenomenon of becoming anxious over your image on social media as “compare and despair.”
Father Dave looks at it from a religious perspective. He cites Psalm 139, which powerfully and intimately describes how much God loves us. Father Dave explains that “as believers in Jesus Christ, we believe that our value is found in how God loves us and how God has created us.”
Father Dave, Brett, and Christina then wonder if this affirmation through social media is a generational problem. Father Dave uses a photo that he posted of his mother on Instagram for Mother’s Day as an example, saying that he noticed the photo got more likes than usual, but he didn’t care, and he just thought it was nice. Brett points out that because Father Dave is a likable public figure, likes wouldn’t matter much to him, but they would matter more to an insecure and impressionable middle schooler. But Brett also argues that even older people can get hurt on social media, especially if they start comparing themselves to others.
This entire debate encourages Father Dave to remind people that we are made in God’s image and likeness. Father Dave believes that there is a “need to talk about where our dignity and our worth comes from, and the fact that we are created in the image and likeness of God and that God, individually and genuinely and unconditionally, loves each one of us, regardless of how many likes we got.”
Christina and Brett’s generation grew up with the understanding that one way to measure that people like you is by the number of likes you get on social media. Christina mentions that looking at how many likes she gets on her photos has been a part of her life since she was 12 years old. While Father Dave uses social media casually, Brett and Christina say that their friends use social media in a more calculated manner. Posting photos becomes about showing off to certain people or presenting a certain lifestyle to others.
Everyone agrees that our worth and dignity comes from God alone, but like counts and social media, in general, can affect people’s mental health in both positive and negative ways.