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Social Media and Mental Health: What do you need to know?

It’s no understatement to say that social media has revolutionized the world we live in.

The way we meet, engage, discuss important issues, do business with each other, fall in love and stay connected can all be conducted on the many platforms and offerings that the digital realm of social media has provided. Today, over three billion people – approximately 40 per cent of the world’s population – use social media daily, cataloguing their lives and observing others. Since the first social media site in 1997, the social media community has grown exponentially, resulting in users spending hours online digesting social content, which has been good for site traffic and the bottom lines of social giants like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

But is it for us? A new series by BBC Future is exploring how social media’s impacts our mental health, for the better or the worse. As the investigation acknowledges, our ability to examine the long-term effects of social media are limited by its relatively recent arrival and mass acceptance. But there’s a growing body of science that is dissecting what social media is doing to our brains and what that means for our wellbeing. Here are a few of the studies the investigation has shared so far:

STRESS: A 2015 Pew Research study found that while Twitter can be a significant contributor to stress, the more that women used Twitter, the less stressed they were. While the study also found women reported higher stress levels than men, the de-stressing effects of Twitter usage were only concluded in women.

ANXIETY: A 2016 US study concluded that people using seven or more social media sites were more likely to experience high levels of general anxiety symptoms, compared to those who used up to two platforms.

DEPRESSION:  According to two studies that involved more than 700 students, the quality of online interactions, including social media were linked to depressive symptoms. Poorer interactions resulted in more severe depressive symptoms.

SLEEP:  In a 2016 study, University of Pittsburgh researchers found that the more often 18-30 year olds logged into social media, the more likely they were to suffer from disturbed sleep. Evidence has shown that the blue light emitted from device screens can disrupt the body’s production of melatonin – a hormone that enables sleep.

SELF-ESTEEM: Call it selfie sadness? Penn State University researchers found in a 2016 study that looking at strangers’ selfies resulted in a lower self-esteem for the viewer. The phenomenon was linked to viewers comparing their own state to the seemingly happy demeanor of the person in the selfie. In addition, frequent selfie viewing was linked to decreased life satisfaction.

RELATIONSHIPS: In a 2009 survey of 300 people between the ages of 17 and 24, researchers from University of Guelph in Ontario found that women were more likely than men to report Facebook induced jealousy after their partner added an unknown member of the sex.

So should we sign-off from our social media accounts for good? Hold on – while there’s a lot of evidence out there demonstrating that social media’s ills, there’s also reason to believe that it can have a positive impact. Like anything, it seems that moderation is key – a 2017 evidence review by the Education Policy Institute found that a moderate use of social media can have a “beneficial impact on young people’s emotional wellbeing.”

Social media platforms are also taking note of the growing concern about how social media impacts our mental health. In December 2017, Facebook announced it was enacting changes to its site to help improve the site’s effect on our wellbeing, including enhancing news feed quality, introducing suicide prevention tools and allowing us to “Snooze” a person, page or group for 30 days without having to permanently unfollow or unfriend them.

Social media has become an important part of our daily lives but that doesn’t mean we should let it control our lives. Go ahead and log on once in a while and focus on having positive interactions online and you’ll be much happier for it.


Mindfulness training can help students keep calm and carry on in exam season

A new study from the University of Cambridge recommends that mindfulness training can ward off mental illness and boost student mental health over the demanding exam season.

The practice of “mindfulness” has captured many minds in recent years as a capable approach to focus attention on the present, achieve calm and combat depression, anxiety and other mood disorders.

One group of the study’s participants took part in an eight-week course, guided by a certified mindfulness teacher and were also encouraged to practice mindfulness activities, like meditation, mindful walking, eating and more. The other group were only offered traditional university support and counselling services. The study’s results showed that that while students without mindfulness training experienced increased stress throughout the academic year, distress scores among the mindfulness group fell below their baseline levels, even during exam season.

Researchers designed the program to optimize wellbeing and mental health resilience for students by promoting values like self-compassion, self-discovery and empowerment. Over 600 Cambridge students took part in the study.

The study comes at an important time. As the Guardian reports, students seeking counselling services rose by 50 per cent between 2010 and 2015 in the UK. The need for greater access to mental health services across campuses is growing, and the need for new strategies, like mindfulness training, could help.

In Canada, the American College Health Association’s 2013-2016 survey of 25,164 Ontario university students found that cases of anxiety, depression and suicide attempts have all risen approximately 50 per cent. A Toronto Star and Ryerson survey also found that the average increase for mental health budgets across 15 Canadian universities and colleges reviewed was 35 per cent.

Researchers concluded that mindfulness training could be an effective component of a wider student mental health strategy. While the study suggests that mindfulness training is a potent tool for students to maintain and improve their mental health, findings on its effects on exam results were inconclusive.


4 Tips for Setting New Year’s Resolutions

The new year is upon us, but if you’re like most people, your New Year’s resolutions will fail by the time February hits. According to Forbes, only eight percent of people keep their New Year’s resolutions. If you’re already falling behind this year, don’t fret. It’s never too late to reevaluate your fitness and health goals. Start with these four tips for setting New Year’s resolutions that stick.

Start Small

One reason New Year’s resolutions fail is because people set large goals that quickly become overwhelming. If you’re already feeling overwhelmed with your New Year’s resolution, take a step back and consider ways to simplify your goals.

For example, instead of focusing on losing sixty pounds this year, start with the small goal of losing five pounds this month. It’s essentially the same goal, but focusing on the smaller, shorter term goal is more manageable. Plus, once you accomplish this goal once, it makes doing it again next month that much easier.

Another reason simplicity helps is because it keeps your focus from being pulled in too many different directions. If you resolutions list is long, consider cutting it down to one or two of your most important goals.

Be Specific

Another reason people fail with their New Year’s resolutions is because they aren’t specific with their goals. For example, you might decide to “exercise more.” The problem with this resolution is that it provides no direction. What exactly does this mean to you?

A more specific goal would be to do thirty minutes of cardio three days per week. By defining your goals like this, you can better track and measure them to ensure you’re on the track you want to be on.

Stay Accountable

It’s easy to give up on your goals when you’re not being held accountable for them. That’s why it’s a good idea to get other people involved in helping you achieve your goals. For example, you might hire a personal fitness trainer to help you reach your fitness goals. With someone besides yourself to answer to, they’ll be able to help you stay on track, keep your appointments, and push toward the goals you want to achieve. You might also:

  • Document your journey on social media
  • Share your successes and setbacks with a friend or family member
  • Keep an accountability journal
  • Join a group—such as a fitness class or online support group—of like-minded individuals with similar goals

Don’t Get Discouraged

A minor setback does not equate to failure. Unfortunately, many people will see it this way and give up far too early.

Let’s say your goal is to exercise three times per week. Due to unforeseen circumstances, you miss a workout session and only get in two workouts that week.

This does not mean you’ve failed. It does not mean you have to cancel all future workout sessions.

Don’t let one missed session discourage you. Simply pick up your regularly scheduled workout sessions next week, and continue pushing toward your goals.

Remember, you are in control of your success. Setting small, specific goals, staying accountable, and not giving up will help you achieve your dreams.


3 Common Types of Mental Illness and Their Symptoms

The first full week of October marks Mental Illness Awareness Week. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of stigma surrounding mental illness, and since it doesn’t get talked about much, it can be difficult for people to spot mental illness in themselves and their loved ones. That’s why we’ve put together this list of common mental illnesses and their symptoms. Check it out.

Anxiety Disorders

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States. These disorders affect 40 million American adults, or approximately 18 percent of the population. In Canada, it’s estimated that a quarter of the population will suffer from an anxiety disorder at some point in their lifetime.

Examples of anxiety disorders include:

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
  • Posttraumatic Stress Disorder
  • Panic Disorder
  • Social Anxiety Disorder
  • Specific Phobias

These conditions are characterized by an abnormal fear or dread response due to certain stimuli or situations. Individuals with anxiety may also suffer from physical symptoms such as sweating and rapid heartbeat. Anxiety is a normal part of life, but anxiety disorders are so severe that they interfere with normal functioning.

Mood Disorders

Depression

Depression is a type of mood disorder commonly grouped with anxiety disorders because people who have one of these mental illnesses are at higher risk of the other. In the United States, depression is the leading cause of disability for individuals ages 15 to 44, says the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.

There are several forms of depression, including major depressive disorder, persistent depressive disorder, seasonal affective disorder, and postpartum depression among many others.

Depression occurs when persistent feelings of sadness affect your daily life. Symptoms of depression can include:

  • Loss of interest
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Thoughts of suicide
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Fatigue
  • Changes in appetite
  • Weight gain
  • Low self-esteem
  • Feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, or guilt
  • Mood swings
  • Anxiety

Bipolar Disorder

Similar to depression is bipolar disorder. It’s another type of mood disorder characterized by extreme mood swings from mania to depression. It can lead to risky behaviors and suicidal tendencies. It also results in changes in sleep and behavior. Symptoms of bipolar disorder include periods of extreme happiness contrasted with symptoms of depression. Each state can last for weeks, months, or even years before patients flip-flop to the other.

Eating Disorders

Eating disorders can also be tied to anxiety. These are disorders that involve extreme emotions and behaviors related to food and weight. Common eating disorders include the following:

Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia patients view themselves as being overweight despite being extremely thin. This leads to unusual eating habits like avoiding food or weighing their food before eating it. They may also obsessively check their weight and engage in other techniques for losing weight, such as vomiting, using laxatives, or exercising excessively. This can lead to serious medical conditions like low blood pressure, anemia, thin bones, and infrequent periods.

Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia nervosa is similar to anorexia because it involves a fear of weight gain. However, bulimia is characterized by behavior of binge-eating and purging, such as through the use of laxatives or vomiting. This can cause sore throat, swollen glands, gastroesophageal reflux disorder, kidney and intestinal problems, and severe dehydration.

Binge Eating Disorders

Binge eating is unlike anorexia or bulimia because patients do not obsessively purge their bodies following a binge. However, they do tend to experience guilt or shame about their eating habits, which leads to further binge eating. These patients may have anxiety, depression, or other psychological disorders, and they tend to be overweight or obese, which increases their risk of hypertension and cardiovascular disease.

If you suspect that you or a loved one is suffering from a mental illness, consult a mental health professional for a proper diagnosis and recommendations for your treatment options.


Warning Signs and Risk Factors of Suicide

This year, National Suicide Prevention Week runs September 10-16, with World Suicide Prevention Day falling on September 10.

According to the World Health Organization, suicide claims the lives of nearly 800,000 people annually. That’s one suicide every 40 seconds across the globe. Estimates show that for every adult who succeeds in suicide, another 20 have attempted it.

The stats are particularly troubling among young adults, as it’s the second leading cause of death for individuals ages 15 to 29. Four out of five teens who attempt suicide have shown clear warning signs.

Suicide prevention starts with learning to identify the warning signs and risk factors so that you can help your loved ones get the care they need before it’s too late.

Warning Signs of Suicide

The warning signs of suicide may develop slowly over time, which can make it difficult to identify if a loved one is at risk. Many of these signs may seem harmless on the surface but be causing serious internal distress. Some of these signs that are harder to spot include:

  • Mood swings, especially bouts of sadness or rage
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Withdrawal from everyday activities or social situations
  • Personality changes

More serious signs of suicide involve engaging in dangerous behavior, such as taking drugs or driving recklessly. Some people who consider suicide will talk or write about it. You may notice they show more interest in the topic of death, talk about being a burden to others or that life doesn’t have a purpose, or even outright threaten to end their own life. These threats should always be taken seriously.

A person who has decided to commit suicide may exhibit sudden calmness, which is a sign that they know their life is going to end soon. Others may make preparations, such as by creating a will or visiting family and friends to say goodbye.

Risk Factors of Suicide

Suicide is not limited by age, gender, race, nationality, or other demographic, nor does it have one single cause. However, some people are at higher risk than others.

Suicide rates are highest among the elderly, teens, and young adults. Risk factors include:

  • Past trauma, such as abuse
  • Recent death in the family
  • Overwhelming stress, such as following a job loss or divorce
  • Family history of suicide
  • Substance abuse
  • Long-term illness
  • History of mental disorders, especially clinical depression
  • Aggressive or impulsive tendencies
  • Previous suicide attempts

Individuals, especially teens, with little to no social support are also at high risk of suicide. This may include support within the family, community, or school.

Preventing Suicide

If these warning signs and risk factors remind you of yourself or a loved one, prevention is possible.

It starts by seeking out support or lending your own support. A strong social network can drastically reduce suicide risk by giving the individual a trusted outlet to work through their problems. In combination with that support network, or if that support network is not available, clinical care can also help individuals recover. These programs may focus on mental health, physical disorders, or substance abuse.

If you believe a loved one is in danger of taking his or her own life, be there to show you care. Do not leave him or her alone, and be sure to remove any possible weapons from the area. Encourage your loved one to remain calm and to seek psychiatric care. In some cases, immediate medical attention may be required.

 


How Does Sleep Affect Your Overall Health?

Are you getting enough sleep at night? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one third of adults aren’t getting the sleep they need, and you could be one of them. The National Sleep Foundation suggests that adults ages 18 to 64 get between seven and nine hours of sleep every night.

Getting enough sleep isn’t just about how you feel the next day. Over time, it can have a profound effect on your health. Here are just five ways sleep affects your health.

Sleep Affects Your Cardiovascular Health

When you sleep, your body is working to repair itself. This is especially true when it comes to your heart and blood vessels. Getting too little sleep is said to increase your risk of heart disease, kidney disease, diabetes, stroke, and high blood pressure.

Researchers suggest two ways in which this link occurs. The first is through direct physical changes and the other is through behavioral factors that impact both your sleep patterns and your heart. According to the National Sleep Foundation, individuals who sleep fewer than six hours per night are twice as likely to experience a heart attack or stroke compared to those who sleep six to eight hours, and that’s when accounting for weight, age, and smoking and exercise habits.

Sleep Deprivation Increases Obesity Risk

Another physical impact of sleep is on obesity, where too little sleep increases your chances of gaining weight. Obesity puts a strain on your bones, muscles, blood vessels, and other organs to negatively impact your overall health. This can increase your risk of:

  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Cancer
  • High blood pressure
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Infertility

The Harvard School of Public Health suggests several reasons behind the sleep-obesity relationship. Among them, it’s believed that sleep-deprived individuals may exercise less because they don’t have the energy. Not getting enough sleep can also increase your daily caloric intake. This is because lack of sleep impacts hormone balances, particularly those that control appetite. Not only that, but people who sleep less have more opportunities to eat throughout the day, so they’re bringing in more calories overall while burning fewer calories.

Sleep is Associated with Immune Function

Research suggests that individuals who don’t get enough sleep have a harder time fighting off common infections than those who get enough shut-eye at night. Your body uses proteins called cytokines to promote sleep, and when you’re sick or stressed, these cytokines need to increase to help combat symptoms. However, getting too little sleep decreases production of cytokines as well as antibodies, making it harder for your body to fight infection.

Sleep Impacts Mood and Decision-Making Skills

While you’re sleeping, your body isn’t just recharging on the physical level. It’s also working to refresh your mental capacities. You’re probably familiar with how a sleepless night leaves you irritable in the morning, but long-term sleep deprivation can severely impact your mental health. According to researchers, there’s a strong link between sleep and emotional regulation. Sleep plays a large role in memory, mood, decision-making and problem-solving skills, and creativity. Therefore, the amount of sleep—and quality of sleep—you get can greatly affect your performance in school and work.

Sleep Deprivation is Linked to Depression

When it comes to sleep and mental health, the link goes far beyond irritability and creativity. Approximately 90 percent of patients with major depression experience sleep abnormalities. Normalizing sleep patterns can reduce the risk of depression relapse while continued abnormalities have been shown to increase risk of relapse. A similar link has been seen in patients with PTSD. It’s believed that this relationship between sleep and depression is bi-directional, meaning sleep deprivation can lead to depression and vice versa.

With these points in mind, it may be time to reevaluate your sleep schedule to ensure you’re getting enough shut-eye at night. Your health depends on it.


Employees fear one-on-one conversations with the boss

What’s the biggest cause of anxiety among employees? If you guessed public speaking, you’re wrong, according to the results of a new study. What really stresses out employees is asking for a raise.

The study from Robert Half found that only 28 percent of Canadian employees feel confident when asking for a pay increase, compared to 48 percent who feel assured when public speaking. In fact, 39 percent of respondents said they would rather clean their house than ask for a raise in a one-on-one conversation, while 10 percent would rather find a new job.

This insecurity isn’t new, but it has changed slightly over time. Last year, 31 percent of those surveyed felt confident when asking for a raise, while in 2015, the percentage was 35 percent.

Robert Half’s Confidence Matters research outlines workers’ confidence levels and attitudes about a variety of career and salary topics. More than 400 Canadian workers employed full-time in office environments were surveyed by an independent research firm for it. The survey was also conducted in 2015 and 2016.

“When it comes to confidence at work, knowledge truly is power,” says Greg Scileppi, president, Robert Half International Staffing Operations. “Professionals with a thorough understanding of in-demand skills and salary trends in their area are better able to measure their value, and are more self-assured in articulating their contributions to the business as they negotiate their compensation, at either an existing job or for a prospective role.”

Although many workers don’t relish salary negotiations, 27 percent of survey respondents said they plan to ask for a raise this year, with the primary reason being that their salary hasn’t grown with their job duties – the top response for three years running.

Other takeaways from the Confidence Matters research include:

  • Employees are confident in their companies and job prospects: Seventy percent of respondents feel confident in their employer’s stability, and 42 percent feel confident about their job prospects. Another 56 percent feel confident in a job interview.
  • Many don’t know what they don’t know: Forty-eight percent of workers say they have never checked their salaries against the going market rates for the positions, compared to 43 percent in 2015; only 8 percent have checked their salaries against the going rates within the last month.
  • There’s a lot on the line: Nineteen percent of workers said they would look for a new job if their request for a raise was declined, while 22 percent of respondents who plan to ask for a raise said they need the money to cover basic needs.

Organizations benefit from having confident employees who aren’t afraid to vocalize ideas or identify new opportunities for business growth, says Scileppi. “Managers should cultivate open communication with employees, and make time for frequent check-ins to review their individual goals, progress and preferences, which will promote morale by ensuring staff feel recognized and supported.”


Employee mental health program asks: Are you okay?

Business consulting firm EY (formerly Ernst & Young) is partnering with its EAP to check in on employee mental health with one simple question: Are you okay?

Forbes is reporting that EY launched a new mental health awareness program to help reduce the stigma of seeking help for mental health-related issues. The program, with its official title of “r u ok?” helps connect employees to existing mental health resources within the organization. Some of these resources include employee champions, cross-country presentations, virtual events, e-learning curriculum, peer-to-peer connections and follow-up services with the company’s EAP.

Since the program launched in the fall of 2016, the company says it has seen a 30.2 percent increase in calls to the assist line that pertain to mental health. The program offers the ability to impact employees’ mental health by easily connecting them with resources.

Dr. Sandra Turner, leader of the “r u ok?” program, told Forbes the success of the program has been EY’s overall culture of diversity and inclusion. “We need to have the right culture,” she told the website. “One where people trust that coming forward about their struggle with mental health will not affect their job.”

Turner offers this advice to companies seeking to implement their own programs:

  • Take advantage of collaboration: Turner says many teams were involved in developing the program, including human resources, the diversity team and communications.
  • Partner with outside experts: EY collaborated with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and other mental health partners to share learnings. The firm will also focus on helping other organizations offer similar services as they move forward with the program.

New app could stop bullying

Can a new app connect students with resources to stop bullying? A group of developers at Rochester Institute of Technology is hoping their new app will do just that.

According to an article on the WHEC.com website, the B.U.S. app will connect students who are bullied with people who can help. The anonymous platform will allow people to share their experiences and have others comment on them to help solve bullying problems.

B.U.S. stands for “Be heard, Unite voices, Stand together,” and the group of researchers creating the app say the idea came from personal experience. The app would also include safety features that would check for alarming words and alert school administration if they feel a threat is present.

The app is designed to give students more options when they feel they are being bullied, as well as raise awareness of the frequency with which students are bullied.

It would include a contact list of numbers and emails of people that students can contact to continue the conversation about bullying and offer help and support to those being bullied. The app is currently only available on Android operating systems, but developers say they are currently searching for someone who can build an Apple iOS version of the app.


Affluent students more vulnerable to addictions: Study

Students who come from wealthier backgrounds may be more vulnerable to drug and alcohol problems than their peers, according to a new study.

Researchers in the United States found that by age 26, young adults in the upper middle class have a 2-3 times greater chance of being diagnosed with drug or alcohol addictions than the national rates. The study points to an increased risk of substance abuse at the high end of the socioeconomic spectrum.

Lead study author Saniya Luthar, a professor of psychology at Arizona State University, told LiveScience that these are “alarming” rates of addiction. And, contrary to popular believe, it dispels the myth that addition is a problem that affects mostly those in lower-income areas.

The study found higher rates of drinking to the point of intoxication smoking marijuana in wealthier students than among the public.

The most alarming trend was that by age 26, lifetime rates of addiction to drugs or alcohol were 19-24 percent among women and 23 to 40 percent among men from families with a higher socio-economic status – approximately three times higher than the national average for women and two times higher for men.

Why the higher rates of addiction? Luthar told the website that she suspects it is academic pressure, financial means to gain fake IDs and a group culture that promotes drug and alcohol abuse. She also surmised that it may be that parents of high-achieving students do not take drug or alcohol use seriously because the kids are still performing well academically.

How can parents prevent this? Some recommendations include:

  • Putting more emphasis on minimizing drug and alcohol use early on
  • Communicating openly with teenagers about the risks associated with drug and alcohol use
  • Helping students maintain a realistic perspective on their academic achievements