When Switching Off Isn't An Option

Since 2012, I’ve been working a lot around mental health, and particularly depression in the male population in London.

Having been diagnosed with depression that year, I wanted to know more about it all. Why people felt depressed, what made them feel depressed and ultimately how I could fix it. Fast forward a couple years and what ended up helping me more than anything was changing my focus. Instead of trying to ‘fix’ it, I accepted it. Sometimes people just have depression, and can get depressed/anxious without direct triggers. When you’re looking for a trigger that isn’t there, the only thing that’ll be there waiting for you is frustration, anger and, well, depression. By accepting it and channeling my focus towards things that made me happy, I actually helped myself more than I ever thought I could.

I wanted to use my voice to get people talking more, and more openly, about mental health. It had (and still has) a horrible stigma around it. But it doesn’t need to. Not anymore.

A few years on and mental health is now the ‘in-thing’. From yoga and meditation to apps around mindfulness, it’s something I’m definitely not complaining about. People are being more open, accepting and honest. Talking about depression isn’t a bad thing, it doesn’t make you any less of a person — it actually makes you stronger. The more we utilise our voices to bring depression to the side of normalcy, the better off we’ll be and the more similar we’ll realise we are. Just ask Stormzy.

Most of you reading will know that I’m a musician and photographer by trade, and a lot of my day involves being in digital. I’m a creative at a social media agency, and there’s no time to switch off. My MD Ben Tyson spoke to me not too long ago, asking my thoughts on mental health and the impact social media has to today’s generation. I have to admit, although I had opinions on it, I don’t think I had ever properly spoken about the two before. It’s a thought that—completely incomprehensibly—eluded me.

Last night, I was browsing through British GQ and three topics piqued my interest:

  • How annoyingly ripped cover star Anthony Joshua is.
  • Wil Harris’ foreword: Me, Myself And iPhone.
  • GQ Life’s Mental Health Hacks.

I don’t really need to explain the first point, but I’ll share my thoughts on the latter. But firstly, a little more context.

In today’s age, the people that frown and remark at how people are ‘constantly on their phones’ are usually the same people that are… constantly on their phones. And it’s perfectly okay. Taking a picture of your meal before you eat is by no way a weird thing to do anymore. Waking up and checking your social media platforms is done by more than it isn’t. Your phone is pretty much the epicentre of your life. It has your email, it’s your alarm, it’s your meditation guru, it’s your PA that reminds you about birthdays, it’s your newspaper, it’s your bank, it’s your camera, it’s your calculator, it’s your map, and so on. Without it, you’re more or less screwed. And that’s perfectly fine. With the brilliance of social media, I can speak to people all over the world. Some of my closest friends live thousands of miles away. Without social media I couldn’t have had a conversation with my friend in New York the same way I could with a friend in London. I’ve had long distance relationships that—without being constantly connected—couldn’t have happened. I am a massive advocate of life in the digital age, so it was refreshing that Wil Harris felt the same.

“My phone is where my loved ones are. Why wouldn’t I be attached to it?”

I do, however, understand the pressures that social media brings. The desire to be your polished self, or worse, someone else entirely, is a conversation I don’t need to get into. I get it. The pressure can affect people in different ways. This is a primary reason why social media plays a massive part in mental health. But is ‘switching off’ from it entirely really the only option? I find that to be a bit of a cop out.

The number 1 hack in the same issue of GQ, ‘Disconnect for your newsfeed’, reads:

“A survey from the US National Institute of Health linked social media to depression and anxiety. A drop-feed of carefully selected and edited pictures on social media is a recipe for low self-esteem. If you can’t quite face culling your Facebook friends list and deleting Instagram from your phone, set aside a maximum of 30 minutes a day for checking your social accounts. Less is more.”

Cop. Out. Why would I want to cull my friends list? I wouldn’t do that in real life, so why should I do that on Facebook? Deleting my Instagram? Lol, foh. I work in social media, I live and breathe it. I feel the pressure of keeping up appearances but I can’t just suddenly limit my time to half an hour. Firstly, going (practically) cold turkey isn’t healthy and secondly, I’d probably not be able to have any form of a career in it.

As dangerous as social media can be—particularly in a world where a genuine Twitter troll is ruler of the Free World (there’s also quite a decent article about this in the same GQ issue. I promise they’re not paying me to say this. Although, I kinda wish they were.)—it has also been one of the best things for my personal well-being. Social media has a dark side, as do most things. And as most things, it has a wonderful side, too. It’s hilarious, it’s heart-warming, it’s home. It’s the place where people have pretty much enabled me to have a career in the arts. It’s a place where people support each other. It has also become a bit of an echo chamber, but knowing how many people were pissed off about Brexit did fill me with some hope for humanity as it stands. People that empower others, support others, champion others.

It’s about finding balance. You don’t go cold turkey. You don’t restrict yourself to half an hour a day. It’s about best practise. When you go to a restaurant, take the damn picture. Then put the phone in your pocket and have a conversation. When you’re at a bar, take the selfies. Post what you do on your Story. Then continue to enjoy your evening. When you get home, browse Instagram whilst you’re getting ready for bed. Then put your phone away, take ten minutes to reflect on your day without your phone or laptop. And when your phone alarm wakes you up in the morning, leave it there and go to the bathroom, brush your teeth. Get ready, and then browse the platforms during your commute.

Like it or not, smartphones are an integral part of our lives. I’ve seen children playing with tablets. Kids in high school know more about social media than me (well, for the most part. I’m still relatively good at what I do). But we need to learn how to moderate this, like everything else. You may love chocolate, but you know not to have it for breakfast, lunch and dinner. With life literally being on our fingertips, and validation coming from engagement, we need to remember the core reasons why we love being here. People. Home. Nature. Exploration. Art. Love. If we’re appreciating these in different, digital ways, so be it.

We need to be aware of the affect social media has on us, and future generations, for sure. But we can’t completely bash it and try to obliterate its existence. We should be finding what makes us happy, and not giving into what doesn’t.

Severe social anxiety can be eased by building friendships on Facebook and Twitter. It can be a space to exhale, to vent, to release, to breathe. It’s a place where you can scream if it helps. It can be a sanctuary. It can be a distraction (sometimes bad, sometimes good). Instagram is a place for aspirational figures, but it’s also a place where you can be inspired.

It can be so many different things depending on how you use it, but I’d be damned if people believe that social media only has negative affects to mental health.