Written by UKCP Digital Content Producer, Gem Sofianos
At 30 years old, I have recently discovered that I am in-fact a millennial. Part of the so called ‘snowflake’ generation who are loathed by some, pitied by others, and seemly destined to never own homes, bounce from job to job and face a future of increasing uncertainty.
There isn’t a day that goes by where there isn’t a millennial themed headline. And I have borne witness to some of the problems plaguing my generation.
I graduated in 2009 in the height of the financial crisis and struggled to get a job. I worked for free to ‘gain experience’, before landing a dream job only to be made redundant. And I am well aware that I may never make it onto the property ladder and spend 40% of my monthly salary on rent.
Each generation before us has faced its own similar problems. But the one thing my millennial generation has faced that no other has before; is the dawn of the digital age.
It’s widely known that young people are facing a mental health crisis, rates of anxiety and depression in young people have risen 70% in the past 25 years, and our increasing reliance on the digital world, and most notably social media is having a profound impact.
According to the Royal Society for Public Health, social media use has been linked with increased rates of anxiety, depression and poor sleep, and has even been described as more addictive than cigarettes and alcohol.
Social media is part of my everyday life, not only in my work as a Digital Content Producer here at UKCP, but as a way to share ideas, stories and connect with friends and family all over the world.
However, I have succumbed to the detrimental effects of social media.
A few years ago, I was hit with some sudden ill health, with months of tests and trips to the hospital culminating in an operation that put me out of action for 6 weeks.
I missed out on so much during that time, friends moving away, a best friends hen party, birthdays, and work to name but a few.
While that may sound inconsequential to some, and a #millennialproblem, at the time it was a really big deal for me.
Having social media and seeing my friends have a great time, without a care in the world, made an extremely stressful time for me even harder.
FOMO, the fear of missing out, is something new and has grown rapidly thanks to the advent and colossal rise of social media.
When looking at stress and related social media usage, Pew Research Centre suggests ‘that stress might come from maintaining a large network of Facebook friends, feeling jealous of their well-documented and well-appointed lives, the demands of replying to text messages, the addictive allure of photos of fantastic crafts on Pinterest, having to keep up with status updates on Twitter, and the “fear of missing out” on activities in the lives of friends and family.’
For me going through one of the worst and loneliest times of my life, was compounded by social media, reminding me off all the things I was missing out on, as well as the carefree lives my peers were rightly leading. So much so that I took myself off the grid for a while.
Social media takes our everyday lives, our trials and tribulations, and magnifies them. It places seemly normal tasks, like eating avocado on toast for breakfast, as another chance to compete in the quest for the ‘perfect life’.
And the culture of ‘perfectionism’ amongst millennials could be being exacerbated by social media.
Seeing peers post those envy inducing perfect selfies or living out their Hollywood fairy tale relationships online, has been said to fuel competitiveness and increase feelings of insecurity.
But while it all may seem wonderfully effortless on Instagram, I have seen friend’s camera rolls littered with hundreds of the same image just to get that one ‘perfect’ selfie.
I have a love/hate relationship with social media. I love that it can create a sense of community, where you can share amazing and inspirational content that can change the lives of those whom you may never meet and who live thousands of miles across the globe.
That you can access information at the tip of your fingers from like-minded individuals, most news stories now break on Twitter and YouTube is the second highest search engine behind google.
But I hate the impact it is having on our young people and my peers.
I’m just as guilty as the next millennial when it comes to the reliance on social media and the digital world. The last thing I do before bed, and the first thing when I wake up, is check my various platforms to catch up on what I’ve missed overnight.
The government needs to be doing so much more to ensure that social media companies are held to account when it comes to the addictive nature of social media and its impact on young people’s mental health.
In an age of fake news, cyber bulling and the Cambridge Analytica scandal we are just starting to realise the effects the digital world is having in the real world.
The more we talk about and highlight the issues surrounding social media, the bigger force for good I believe it can become.
UKCP psychotherapist Aaron Balick has also written a blog about social media and why we continue to use it despite the recent data scandals. Read it here.
If you are experiencing any problems that come with living in our modern world it may be helpful to talk things through with a trained professional. To find a UKCP psychotherapist click here.