Instagram: the surprising ways it’s looking out for you

Whether it’s the constant ‘highlight reels’ or tendency to voice anything other than how we’re actually feeling, social media gets a bad rap with regards to mental health. But Instagram is changing that.

Words I thought I’d never write.

Of all the platforms, it’s the one I least expected. It’s notorious for its highly constructed imagery – from the classic food flat-lay to the ‘oh I just happened to be standing like this looking absolutely flawless’ poses. And even though many of us simultaneously partake in these facades and know this not to be ‘true’, it’s easy to categorise Instagram has the perfect platform for self-promotion.

And yet, here we are in the midst of Mental Health Awareness week, and a little video pops up in my feed.

Well, well, well. The times are a-changing.

Softening a sceptic

At first, on seeing the hashtag, I wasn’t really convinced.

How is Instagram ‘here for me’? Aren’t the hellbent on using all my data to find out more about me and make money?

The cynic in me felt that Instagram chose to launch during Mental Health Awareness Week simply to improve its reputation – perhaps undoing some of the negative associations associated with the platform.

Why am I only seeing this now, anyway? This is some serious bullshit.

And then I watched the video (yeah, I judged it without watching it – AND WHAT). And then I found out a bunch of other stuff I did not know about Instagram. Then I changed my mind.

The good, the bad and the ugly

In case you’ve been under a rock, Instagram houses a bunch of different communities – all of which you can find just by searching hashtags.

Photographers? Videographers? Designers? Artists? You’re well catered for.

Foodies? Travel enthusiasts? Writers? Musicians? Loads for you too.

Depressed? Anxious? Eating disorder? Bipolar? It’s all out there for you to find.

The thing is, that’s a double-edged sword. It’s great when the community you want to be part of is generally a positive one (um, hello food?). But when it’s mental health, there’s good and bad. You get the lovely people promoting positivity, sharing their stories and offering support – but you also get the darker side.

And that creates a few issues that I’ve long had a problem with.

That means you can search hashtags that perpetuate any issues you’re facing. It doesn’t take much searching to find people documenting their suffering in graphic detail. Posting self-harm images, voicing suicidal plans, promoting anorexia as a desirable lifestyle. If you can think of it, you can find it – and lots of these communities are very active.

I’m not saying people don’t have the right to share these feelings – of course they do. People have the right to post what they want – but for a long time I’ve felt that social media platforms haven’t acknowledged these issues.

Apparently, I was mistaken.

A kinder community of support

While Instagram’s video primarily focuses on the advocates of mental health (the lovely, positive people I mentioned earlier), it also includes a link to Instagram Together.

Until the video, I’d never heard of it. Essentially, it’s a small website containing advice and information for using Instagram, some case studies and mental health resources.

It’s got a long way to go – especially those resources – but it’s a step in the right direction, and one that other platforms have neglected to take.

Still, what’s most impressed me are the functions that I didn’t even know existed. You can report a post promoting ‘self-injury’ – but not in a shitty way. It flags it with Instagram, who point that person to their resources, connecting them with people who can help. In addition, if you search a sensitive hashtag, you’ll see a similar message asking if you need support.

Instagram's 'Can we help?' message  Reporting self-injury on Instagram

FINALLY.

I mean, there’s not much stopping someone selecting ‘See Posts Anyway’. There’s not much stopping someone Googling it either. But what we’re seeing is an acknowledgement here. It’s great to see a platform renowned for its narcissism take such a positive step.

I think it’s wonderful that Instagram is taking some responsibility for protecting its users and offering them another option. And that can only be a good thing.

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