USC Student Health, in partnership with Instagram and the Jed Foundation (JED), revealed an interactive toolkit to promote mental health and well-being on social media on Wednesday. The USC launch was the first and only in the U.S. and featured a lounge-like atmosphere, panel discussions and music by BOSCO, a multi-disciplinary artist and musician from Atlanta.
The toolkit, “Pressure to be Perfect” provides solutions for the pressure young adults feel to project a “perfect” life online. The initiative’s toolkit features quizzes, essays, how-to’s and tips to help users have more self-awareness when using the platform. Recommendations include setting a reminder to log off in order to reduce screen time and performing routine maintenance by unfollowing accounts that breed negativity.
JED is a non-profit organization working to protect emotional health and prevent suicide amongst youth. Their medical director, Dr. Victor Schwartz, is integrally involved in the program’s content and strategy.
“Because social media platforms are a bit distant, it makes it easier for people to behave in ways that they otherwise wouldn’t. This allows for opportunities to present yourself in ways that are distorted. Or when other people do, it makes you feel like you’re not as good as that,” Schwartz reflected.
Victoria Garrick, former USC volleyball star and mental health and body-image advocate, knows all too well about this distortion. Despite portraying happiness on her profile, Garrick was admittingly far from it. Beneath the Photoshop and Facetuning was a young woman experiencing mental health battles. After an intervention prompted by her brother, Garrick decided enough was enough.
She posted side by side images showing the ‘before and after’ versions of her photos. “I was thinking to myself, it’s one thing to say I used to edit my pictures, it’s another thing to present the edited pictures to thousands of people. These are the edits I made; these are literally my insecurities,” Garrick said.
She described the liberation she felt after confronting the shame associated with these editing applications and putting her insecurities on display. “It was empowering for me to say that these photos aren’t going to have power over me anymore,” Garrick recalls.
“We’re not blind to the fact that people feel pressure to feel perfect on Instagram,” said Carolyn Merrell, a public policy manager at Instagram. This toolkit was supported by research gathered by Instagram’s policy team from young people around the world to understand the stresses they face. Merrell was surprised that many subjects expressed that the toolkit’s recommendations shouldn’t be to “to post more real things,” but rather “how to find spaces on and off Instagram to be your full self,” she said.
The program intends to teach users how to sensibly, meaningfully and safely relate with others on social media. Schwartz believes shifting the focus away from competition and self-promotion will help Instagram feel more intentional and rewarding. “It came to me that we’re trying to encourage people to use the platform for communication rather than advertising. It can look like advertising. That’s the tension in it,” Schwartz articulated.
The toolkits will be distributed through JED sponsored colleges and high schools and featured on Instagram’s channel on Thursday. Information is also available here.