The positive implications of social media influencers on students’ belief systems and mental health
By Martha Rodriguez, LCSW
Service Manager Recovery, Broward County, Fla. Public Schools
“Men do not cry”
Quite often our youth are afraid to show they are struggling. Especially young men who continuously must follow and hold up certain standards. More often than not, young men are made fun of, criticized, and scrutinized for showing their emotions. This is seen as a sign of weakness. The message is “Men do not cry”; they certainly do not get depressed or have mental illness. Men are seen as pillars of strength, upholders of their families; they should not and cannot break. Men should most certainly be able to handle their own problems and should be able to control their feelings. I cannot emphasize how far from the truth this is. As well as how this is significantly affecting youth, families, communities, and future generations. These myths are destroying our youth.
The reality is that “depression has nothing to do with personal weakness. It is a serious health condition that millions of men contend with every year. It’s no different than if you develop diabetes or high blood pressure—it can happen to anyone. We show our strength by working and building supports to get better. Asking for help is a sign of strength and should be encouraged. While we can’t always control what we feel, we can do our best to control how we react,” according to Joshua R. Beharry’s blog “5 Myths That Prevent Men from Fighting Depression.”
Change is coming
However, social media influencers are changing this. I wonder if Justin Bieber and Kanye West, or rapper Charlamagne tha God, realize that their raw displays of their struggles have implications that can change the way young man feel, respond to, and access services.
The positive implications of social media influencers on students’ belief systems can help School Social Workers carry out messages of acceptance and normalcy towards wellness. The thought that someone who looks like them is living in their time, age, and culture, and is going on social media and saying, “Hey today is a hard day for me” “just feeling a bit overwhelmed,” “struggling with my thoughts,” “I am bipolar,” is a big deal.
These raw, honest, and intimate statements create a platform for conversations to occur on the struggles our youth may be experiencing. The idea that this man is just like me and is struggling with some of the same things I am and doesn’t make him less of a man, is truly powerful.
To watch Kanye West express his faith and discuss how his faith has and continues to give him strength is also a powerful message. We often forget or lack the knowledge on implications faith and religion can have on healing. Justin Bieber’s recent messages about his feelings and how he’s coping with them are great examples for our youth. It is incredibly difficult for anyone to say they are struggling with their own feelings especially for men. I commend him for his actions and hope we can support him and others. I cannot tell you how many times my male students have mentioned him and others who had helped them to be able to talk about their struggles. It has opened the door to acceptance and education.
Charlamagne tha God has been extremely frank in working towards eliminating the mental health stigma black men experience. He has also been a topic of conversation among many of my young male students. They are very impressed by his honesty and can relate to his experiences as well as those whom he brings on air to join him in exploring this topic. It is because the mind and the body are connected, that spiritually and faith can help many individuals live with Mental Health conditions. — The National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) “Faith & Spirituality.”
Religiousness remains an important aspect of being human, and it usually has a positive association with good mental health. The clinician who truly wishes to consider the bio-psycho-social aspects of a patient needs to assess, understand, and respect his/her religious beliefs, like any other psychosocial dimension. Increasing our knowledge of the religious aspect of human beings will increase our capacity to honor our duty as mental health providers and/or scientists in relieving suffering and helping people to live more fulfilling lives. Religious methods have often been used to treat the mentally ill. Faith and belief systems are very important constituents of psychological well-being and could be fruitfully utilized in psychotherapy, according to Prakash B. Behere, Anweshak Das, Richa Yadav,1 and Aniruddh P. Behere2, 2013
These social media influencers have created a platform for School Social Workers and Mental Health Professionals to have conversations with students about mental health, mental illness, wellness, and faith.
While social media influencers continue sharing their experiences, I hope they will consider some recommendations:
- Continue voicing your experiences, but also share your positive coping skills.
- Consider discussing some of your past maladaptive coping mechanisms and how you changed these for healthier ones.
- Always keep in mind the power and influence you have on the lives of our youth.
- Work together to explore what investments you might be able to make to promote and educate the youth further on wellness.
Faith and Community Involvement
Now I would also like to encourage our faith and community leaders to have conversations about their support and involvement in improving the wellness of our youth. It is important for Faith and community leaders to realize “they are often the first point of contact when individuals and families face mental health problems or traumatic events; many will turn to trusted leaders in their communities before they turn to mental health professionals. When leaders know how to respond, they become significant assets to the overall health system,” according to Mental Health.gov, “For Community and Faith Leaders Creating Community Connections for Mental Health.”
Therefore, community faith leaders should promote acceptance and educate the community and congregation through educational opportunities as well as create and strengthen connections to services for families and individuals.
Some examples of how this can be done are the following:
- Talk about your own mental health openly.
- Be an example of taking good care of your mental health by making mental wellness a priority in your personal life.
- Be inclusive. Mental health affects all of us.
- Foster opportunities to build connections with individuals and families dealing with mental health challenges through trust and acceptance.
- Foster safe and supportive environments for people to openly talk about mental health, stress, trauma, and related issues.
- Ask, “What happened?” instead of, “What’s wrong?” when talking with a friend in need.
- Encourage and express empathy in your family, congregation, and community. Convey a message of nonviolence, acceptance, and compassion. Mental Health.gov, “For Community and Faith Leaders Creating Community Connections for Mental Health.”
Lastly, we need to do more to end the gender bias that occurs in the treatment of psychological disorders, gender differences that exist in patterns of help seeking for psychological disorder, and gender stereotypes regarding proneness to emotional problems in women and alcohol problems in men.
These appear to reinforce social stigma and constrain help seeking along stereotypical lines as they are a barrier to the accurate identification and treatment of psychological disorder.