Compare and Despair: Is Social Media Fuelling Suicide?

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I used to be a techie but technology has grown too fast for me, so I follow with caution. I used to be a gizmo addict, I have weaned myself from gadgets. Because I choose what to know and what to be ignorant about, I don’t have good knowledge of the functions of my phone. When it comes to apps, it is worse; I am a complete moron.

I was surprised when I was told a few days ago that I can edit my eyes to become blue, have blonde hair and add a bridge to my tiny nose. I had no idea that I could use an app to alter myself that much. I did not know I could edit myself. While still processing that and wondering if I should write about it. The news of a popular Disc Jockey suicide hit me.

Is social media becoming the new pressure pot? I can tell you that, social media is more addictive than cigarettes and alcohol combined because I feel it. In the last few days, I know how hard it has been for me because the network on the countryside is 0-1g. It is patchy. I walked around several places in a mile radius to send the two updates I posted on January 1st. I’m yet to keep up with the scores of messages in my messenger and WhatsApp. I can see and feel the addiction because I feel a heightened sense of disconnection. I feel a kind of urgency that makes rural life intolerable and it is due to data wàhálà and nothing else.

I am convinced that social media might be fuelling a growing mental health crisis. Why? I see that people are feeling pressured to belong. To stage their lives, to show achievement. Among all of social media, Instagram is the baddest for mental stability. With what I was shown over the holidays, I fear for young people and even adults without strong anchors. Thoroughly photo-shopped, edited, filtered and staged photographs or videos can easily create a compare and despair attitude when people look at these edited lives compared to their own mundane lives.

How do we stem this growing epidemic? If social media fuelling mental health issues, is it also glamorizing suicide? In the age of social media, we have opened ourselves up for scrutiny, vulnerability and personal attacks. Every now and then, personal anecdotes are subject to criticism and abuse. For as long as there are humans on earth, we will have our share of being dumped, failing a test, not getting that dream job, not being promoted, feeling unloved etc None of these is worth killing ourselves over.

All morning, I have wondered if our perpetual optimism is not hurting us. We assume if someone looks okay, that he or she is okay. We do not ask, we do not tell. Social media has made it easier to present an otherness, we project an image of ourselves we like people to see. This makes it impossible to know if someone is sinking into depression. Social media has made it easier for us to connect and it has also alienated us from making real physical contact. We don’t call each other anymore. Once we see someone socially engaged on to Facebook, Instagram whatsapp etc, we assume he or she is okay. We need to reach out more. We need to ask uncomfortable questions. If you suspect all may not be okay, ask lovingly if your friend or family member is contemplating suicide. Offer genuine support and get them expert help.

Every news of suicide is upsetting. The family and friends of every suicide victim hurt for years wondering what they could have done in the futile hope that it may have changed the tragic outcome. To anyone who may be struggling out there. It is okay to seek help. Talk to someone today. Please understand that there is always someone who cares about you and that your life has direct impact on someone else. I know you may think you do not matter. You do! A decision to end your life will affect more people than you could ever imagine. No matter how worthless you think you are, your life and the person you may become is far more important than your death. If you are experiencing higher levels of psychological distress, depression, anxiety or entertaining ideations of suicide, please call someone. Stay true to yourself, there is too much packaging going in in the world.

Bamidele Ademola-Olateju a farmer, youth advocate and political analyst writes a weekly column, “Bamidele Upfront” for PREMIUM TIMES, Nigeria. Follow her on Twitter @olufunmilayo.