Seeking Help From A Hashtag: The Dangerous Rise Of Insta Therapy

Spending even more time on social media to improve your mental health? Doesn't quite add up.

Due to the nature of my job, every Monday there’s one conversation that I try to avoid like the plague. As if Mondays aren’t hard enough to gather enough strength for, the chirpy sounds of ‘what’s your screen time?’ have me running for the hills every time without fail.

I hate to disclose my screen time, I am genuinely ashamed of it and seeing that it’s on the rise week on week is just the gift that keeps on giving. My job has me on my phone for at least 9 hours of my day and then my general addiction has me on it for the other four hours I’m awake, give or take the odd hour off it at the gym. Emphasis on the word odd, re: rarely at the gym.

Social media is basically my life, and thus, my strongest flex is how much I know about it because of how much of I devour. I’m always the friend that breaks juicy celebrity gossip, did you see who just split up?! Sends links, shares pages and creates groups, as well as advising on what photo deserves it’s own feed post, and how to edit that spicy photo like a pro. But ironically enough I’m also the friend that is very wary of social media because I know all too well how negative of a place it can be. Especially when it comes to our mental health.

Throughout the pandemic we saw a rise in mental health problems among people. We also saw a rise in how much people used their phones, turning to social media in particular as a form of ‘escapism’. Which in turn, lead to a rise in the number of ‘insta-therapists’ cropping up online.

In a nutshell, ‘Insta-therapy’ is the name given to those who run Instagram accounts trying to help others by giving general advice and sharing motivational posts. Think pages littered with quotes, affirmations, self-care manuals, tips on how to align with your soul purpose and so on. Granted, all these things aren’t doing any harm, but most certainly should not be seen as an alternative to seeking actual professional advice from a qualified therapist. Which brings me to one of the biggest problems with the rise in Insta-therapy? Who do you trust?

Over the past two years we’re seeing an increase in the number of influencers taking to the app to take on the role of therapist. Giving out advice, pulling from their own experiences, offering a safe space to listen and talk to followers, while having zero knowledge of how to do it correctly because they’re not trained to do so.

Totally benefitting from the fact that people have been a) stuck inside their homes a lot over the past two years and b) in desperate need of help, some influencers-turned-life-coaches have been seizing that so-called ‘gap in the market’ to make therapy a very profitable online business for them. I’ve seen countless pages offering ‘one-to-one’ sessions for a pretty hefty fee, I’m talking up to €1,500 here.

And the scary situation is that giving out wrong information to people who need guidance could in fact (and more than likely) worsen their problems rather than curing them. So, while it is important to practice self-love, repeat positive mantras, light candles, drink water and ‘know your worth’, it is most certainly not the same as seeking professional and tailored help. Think of it like this: you might go to your best friend who works in accounting for advice on how to treat a toothache but you’re not going to get them to perform a root canal treatment.

Helping people to be more educated when it comes to Insta-therapy, psychotherapist Seerut Chawla posts material on Instagram (@seerutkchawla) to her growing fanbase now standing at over 200,000 followers. Highlighting the dangers of seeking help solely by this form, Seerut notes how insta-therapy puts ‘far too much emphasis on feeling and not enough on thinking’ as well as a hyper focus on being self-obsessed which she adds will only ‘make you feel worse’.

‘The wellness world makes delusional promises that set you up to fail and leave you feeling worse’, Seerut writes, advising people yet again to steer clear of unrealistic promises from courses that claim they will ‘fully heal you’ or ‘eliminate every part of you that you don’t like’. In reality, Seerut explains how trained professionals cannot promise anything, ‘this only works if you do’

And while there are many trained professionals offering advice on Instagram, it’s important to do your research before hitting that follow button and remember that it’s generalised advice. If it works for you, then great, there’s no harm in using Instagram as a tool to pick up some tips or gather some nice photos. I mean, I often do it myself. My saved folder features a pretty infographic on breath-work techniques for when you’re feeling anxious, as well as quotes on living life to its fullest, gratitude tips and how to start journaling. Pretty extracts, nice photos, things that inspire me, and positive reinforcement when I need it. Instagram can most certainly shrink knowledge gaps about mental and emotional health and help to remove the stigma often associated with it, but it should never replace seeking therapy.

In the busy world we live in, where everyone spends most of their day scrolling through Instagram picking up everything from a new recipe to a new wardrobe, it makes sense why people tend to lean on it for other aspects of their life. But at its very core it’s important to remember it still remains a networking app. One that runs the risk of causing harm when it comes to therapy as it can go unregulated. So, like everything you see on the internet, do your research and never take anything as gospel without firstly verifying its a trusted source.

Looking for advice and help?

If you’re feeling down or anxious, or just generally not in a good place, there are many mental health services and supports that can help you. What service you go to can depend on factors like what’s available in your area and what difficulties you’re having. If you talk to a health professional they should guide you on that. Your GP is often the first person people go to as they will be in a good position to advise you on treatment or other services near you. Equally, they will be able to provide you with a referral if needed.

There are also charities and organisations across Ireland that provide free services and assistance. For those requiring urgent assistance, Pieta House offer a 24-hour crisis support and information line on 1800 247 247, staffed by qualified therapists.

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