Most of us use social media at least once a day: in the US, 90% of young people and 65% of adults are regular users. And many of those users, including me, are accustomed to opening Facebook or Instagram to see endless filtered images of seemingly perfect lives. I have a long-ago acquaintance who moved to Hawaii, and now seems to spend most of her time taking romantic walks on the beach with her photogenic boyfriend, prompting me to ask: who is taking these photos? And should I move to Hawaii??? I tap ‘like’ on Pinterest-worthy smoothies and quinoa bowls made by tanned, toned strangers, and have considered countless drastic life changes when I see an endorsement by someone I hardly even know.
Being inundated with images of curated perfection feels a lot like being flooded with intrusive thoughts. Logically, I know neither the pictures nor the thoughts are an accurate reflection of reality. But emotionally, I feel overwhelmed by their presence. Sure, I know my acquaintance in Hawaii isn’t always laughing at the beach – but I still can’t help but feel jealous of her life when this is the only part of it I see. If I have an errant thought about harming someone I care about, I know it doesn’t mean I actually want to hurt them, or that I’m a bad person, but in the moment, it’s hard to be logical, and sometimes, I panic.
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Because aspects of social media and OCD can be quite similar, sometimes social media usage can exacerbate OCD. Because of this, it is particularly important for people with existing mental health concerns to use the Internet wisely. If we are careful and conscientious users, there’s much to be gained from the community-building power of global communication.
There’s even evidence to suggest that social media can be an extremely valuable resource for individuals with OCD and other mental disorders. So many people suffering from mental health issues do so in silence. Sometimes, talking to family and friends about OCD can feel embarrassing and scary. With social media, including nOCD’s group feature (download here!) individuals can share concerns and stories with others who know exactly where they’re coming from. You might not walk through the cafeteria with a sign above your head that says “I HAVE OCD! DOES ANYONE WANT TO TALK ABOUT IT??” (but if you do – more power to you!!). The Internet allows us to anonymously join other people who have identified themselves as dealing with exactly the same kinds of struggles. Especially for people in early stages of recovery, talking about OCD with the anonymity of a screen name can be a very meaningful preliminary step towards destigmatization – especially when it leads to more IRL conversations about mental health.
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How do you use social media in the context of having OCD? Are certain platforms more triggering than others? Are any of them helpful? Speaking of social media, let us know on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter at @treatmyocd