These young women want to protect your mental health, online

Every month since December 2022, we at Youth Talks publish a four-article series about a key socio-political topic, intending to trigger discussions with our readers. This month, we explore the topic of mental health, its importance and its evolution across time, with a focus on young people and global initiatives helping others take care of themselves. 

Even though social media (SoMe) were designed to improve online interactions and strengthen or create healthy relationships around common centers of interest, it has been proven that they also are a Troyan horse for mental health issues, especially among the youth. With that in mind, our second article’s purpose is to give you an overview of inspiring initiatives led by young women who are working to turn the Internet into a safe space for its users.

🎯 Fighting against cyberbullying

What is cyberbullying and what are its consequences on mental health?

According to UNICEF, cyberbullying is “bullying with the use of digital technologies. It can take place on social media, messaging platforms, gaming platforms and mobile phones. It is repeated behaviour, aimed at scaring, angering or shaming those who are targeted.”

Because cyberbullying occurs online, victims are under the impression that their attackers are omnipresent, following them everywhere, affecting them emotionally (e.g. feelings of loneliness, stress and anxiety, dark thoughts and depression) and physically (e.g. insomnia, stomach aches, headaches).

As a result and in the most severe cases, they can commit suicide: in the U.S. in 2022, 15% of young cyberbullying victims would prefer to keep the issue a secret and students were almost twice as likely to attempt suicide if they had been cyberbullied.

If you are a victim of cyberbullying or witness cyberbullying, it is vital to talk about it and protect your well-being. You can go to a friend, a trusted adult like your parents, another family member, or a professor. There are also specialized support services.

The other urgent step is to block the people that are harming you, restrict your privacy policies, or even delete the apps. Cyberbullying is to be taken seriously and is punishable by law in most countries: consider saving the content that harmed you in case you want to pursue legal action against your attackers later.

StopFisha, the France-based feminist collective fighting against cyberbullying

Stop Fisha was founded by 15 young women, who were then in high school, in 2020 during COVID-19 lockdowns. It’s a feminist association that fights against cyber sexism and sexist, sexual cyber violence. It was created as lockdowns triggered a jump in the number of cyber-attacks and mental health issues among young people, especially the ones aged between 18-24 years old, who represented 22% of cyberbullying victims.

Stop Fisha members structure their actions according to four main goals: 1) they investigate dangerous accounts and supply detailed information to the police and justice system, 2) support victims and provide legal assistance, 3) raise awareness around cyber harassment through schools and the media, and 4) advocate change by collaborating with policymakers at both the national and European levels.

If you are a French speaker, you can follow Stop Fisha on Instagram or Twitter. Otherwise, you can watch their TikTok videos as most of them are in English.

Kind Campaign, the American movement that wants girls to take care of each other

Kind campaign was founded by Lauren Paul and Molly Thompson in 2009 after they met at a university in California and shared their past experiences as victims of girl-against-girl bullying. To kick off their initiative, they shot a documentary about the issue, Finding Kind, as they visited one school after another to gather testimonials and spread their Kind Program.

Their goal is to “bring awareness and healing to the negative and lasting effects of girl-against-girl bullying”. On the field, this translates into educational content like their magazine (you can read every issue online for free, by clicking on the covers), in-school assemblies and curriculums, and a global movement built on online tools and campaigns that you can use.

If you’d like to join the Kind movement, you can start by sending them a message about your experience as a victim or an apology note if you have also been the propagator of girl-against-girl bullying.

🌈 Promoting healthy social media content

How are SoMe affecting the youth’s mental health?

A wide number of academic studies have demonstrated the harmful impact of SoMe on young people and especially among female users. Researchers found 29% of girls who spent three or more hours per day on social media engaged in self-harm and 31% of girls who spent five or more hours on social media were depressed. Moreover, SoMe seem to aggravate low self-esteem, appearance anxiety, and body dissatisfaction, especially when they are appearance-focused (think, Instagram and TikTok versus Reddit and Facebook).

Another issue with SoMe, if we start using them when we are still teenagers, is they affect the way our brains work as they are still developing. For example, the brain’s reward center is activated when users receive “likes” which led researchers to conclude that “adolescents use this cue to learn how to navigate their social world”, which can result in young adults constantly seeking external validation, a recipe for mental health problems.

Influencers that wish you good

Even though SoMe can be toxic for young (female) users, they can benefit your well-being because they also help you communicate with others, and if you don’t feel like going off the grid, there’s a mid-way: exclusively follow accounts that make you feel good.

Don’t know where to start? We curated a list of top Instagram and TikTok influencers that publish content to make others feel good, take care of their mental health, be proud of their body, and ignore toxic injunctions.

On Instagram, you can follow Project HEAL which focuses on helping out people with eating disorders, we’re not really strangers that discusses emotions and self-love, and EFF YOUR BEAUTY STANDARDS that debunks unrealistic aesthetic injunctions. All three accounts spread tips, testimonials, and inspiring quotes to make you smile and feel confident, while fully acknowledging that, at times, life and people hurt.

If you’re more into following people than organizations, there are millions of young women with accounts that are all about self-love and honesty. Musician Alicia Keys shares inspiring quotes about vulnerability and confidence, rupi kaur writes poems to share her struggle with depression, and Megan Jayne Crabble publishes self-portraits and tips to love your body as it is. Lastly, if you have a thing for space stuff, you can follow NASA astronaut Jessica Meir.

On TikTok, therapist Lindsay Fleming gives tips on how to manage stress and anxiety, but also more generally speaks out about mental health to denounce harmful stereotypes on the topic. Another therapist, Nadia Addesi, spreads tons of tips to “clean” your SoMe feeds and boost your self-confidence. Patient Elise Myers journals and makes jokes about her struggles and victories with managing her mental health, while Chloe Hayden focuses on her experiences with ADHD and autism.

🧠 Food for thought

We have seen that social media and networks are not systematically harmful as their impact partly depends on how users manage them. However, some believe the engineers behind SoMe should be held responsible for designing potentially dangerous tools.

What do you think, should tech companies adapt their products to protect their users against any potential threat to their health? And if so, what could they change, what would your ideal social media look like?

For example, the Facebook algorithm enables extreme opinions to rapidly gain visibility as it boosts content that generates the most reactions, and critics, including former Facebook team members, have demanded Facebook twitches the algorithm.

We would be more than happy and curious to hear your thoughts on the subject, so feel free to respond in the comments. We look forward to hearing from you!

📢 We need you

Why do we need to hear from you?
  • From October, 14th to April 30th, young people (15-29yo) worldwide are invited to take part in Youth Talks, a massive collective intelligence consultation.
  • The Higher Education for Good Foundation, which is launching this initiative, is expecting tens of thousands of respondents, hopefully including you!
Why should you participate?
  • The results of the consultation will help the Foundation imagine new higher education models to grow future generations into empowered individuals able to overcome the challenges of their times.
  • Thanks to an online platform and offline activities, you can share your ideas, concerns, dreams, and expectations for the future.
Any other reason?
  • Plenty! First, we believe that asking yourself such questions will help you better understand who you are and what you want for the future.
  • Second, participating in the consultation means your answers will co-construct the educational policies of tomorrow: they will nourish a white paper that will be read by the OECD, the European Commission, and other major youth organizations.
  • Third, thanks to the online open data platform we will publish thanks to your answers, it’s the occasion to show the rest of the world what young people want.
  • Finally, it helps plant trees as for every 10 people responding to Youth Talks, we will finance the planting of 1 tree to help restore forests, create habitat for biodiversity, and make a positive social impact around the world.