Over the last month I have been getting my fix of inspiration from the Olympics – spending time watching the sports that I love and learning about those I know less about. There is one particular story however that has stood out for slightly different reasons.

American gymnast Simone Biles; already a four time Olympic gold medalist and 19 x World Champion was one of the ‘stars to watch’ at Tokyo. Touted to double her haul of gold medals, soon after the Games began things started to unravel. Simone spoke up about her struggles with mental health and withdrew from multiple finals citing a case of the ‘twisties’. This condition affects a gymnast’s ability to control movement as they perilously fly through the air. One of the leading causes is stress and mental pressure.

With the expectation of the nation and World constantly bombarding her through all forms of media, it shouldn’t be surprising. Social media use is now proven to have a direct negative correlation with mental wellbeing. The more an individual engages with social media, the poorer their mental health tends to be. The level of depression, anxiety and mental health issues has exponentially risen since 2012; notably when social media became more readily available on smart phones.

The addictive nature of social media is stark when looking at the brain with a functional MRI scan. The same parts of the brain light up as those that are activated by alcoholism, problem gambling and illicit drug use. The sudden hit of the chemical dopamine is highly addictive and creates a ‘feel good’ response, making the user keep going back for more. When combined with platforms that largely portray the best version of everyone’s lives – it is not surprising that this leads to feelings of inadequacy, anxiety and depression.

Mike King recently returned his NZ Order of Merit medal received for services to mental health. He stated that he felt little had been done by Government or public policy to address this growing issue. Until further changes from the top down occur – there is one area that we can start making progress. Talk to our young people about the positive, but also negative impacts of social media. Help them to understand that what we see through a smartphone isn’t always reality.

Human beings are a social species – yet perhaps the way that we have always socialized is tried and
true. Perhaps social media isn’t quite as ‘social’ as what we once thought.