Is Instagram A Good Tool For People With Mental Health Issues?

By David Konow 04/11/17

A new study examined whether using Instagram to outwardly express problems was helpful or harmful.  

Woman's hand holding Apple iPhone with Instagram application on the screen.

While it’s certainly not a cure-all, in recent years, there's been a marked increase in technology being used as a tool to help fight depression and addiction. While some feel that spending too much time on Facebook and other social media platforms can lead to depression, a new study has shown that Instagram could be one of the many social media tools that actually help people with their mental and emotional struggles.

According to Vocativ, a recent study looked at people using the hashtag #depression, and nearly 800 of those photos were singled out for research. Depression on Instagram can cover a wide variety of emotional issues, whether it’s self-harm, eating disorders or anxiety. One of the researchers in this study found it an “emotionally taxing” process to see so many people outwardly expressing their problems.

At the same time, while there’s so much bullying and trolling on the net, this study found that many people are responding to these hashtags with supportive comments.

“There's this kind of double-edged sword about being anonymous and not having to use your real name,” said lead researcher Nazanin Andalibi. “The popular narrative around anonymity has been that people will troll each other … but opportunities for anonymity are really central to disclosing things that are sensitive for some people and to give and provide support … In this particular platform, people are finding each other and being supportive of each other.”

Many of the responses to people suffering on Instagram have included “I know how you feel,” which is the most popular message people send out, and the second most popular is, “You are strong.”

A previous Instagram study looked at photo hues, and whether they point to a user’s emotional state. (This study used algorithms to examine the hues.) And once Instagram realized that people were using the platform to cry out for help, they developed two new features with the National Eating Disorders Association and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. With one feature, you can flag a user’s photo when they appear to be in trouble, and Instagram will get in touch with options on how to get help.

Researcher Andalibi is glad that people are using Instagram to get in touch with their feelings, recognize when they need help, and learn how to get it. “What I’d love to see is for the platform to engage in fostering the supportive interactions that are already happening,” she says, and hopefully this will continue to grow in time.

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In addition to contributing for The Fix, David Konow has also written for Esquire, Deadline, LA Weekly, Village Voice, The Wrap, and many other publications and websites. He is also the author of the three decade history of heavy metal, Bang Your Head (Three Rivers Press), and the horror film history Reel Terror (St Martins Press). Find David on LinkedIn and Facebook.