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Nadine Higgins: A country full of social media addicts is no laughing matter

Author
Nadine Higgins,
Section
Opinion,
Publish Date
Friday, 21 April 2017, 8:06AM
My name is Nadine Higgins and I’m a social media addict (iStock).
My name is Nadine Higgins and I’m a social media addict (iStock).

What’s the first thing you did when you woke up in the morning?

I pressed snoozed… but then, I picked up my phone and I’m ashamed to admit this, but I trawled social media. You know those startling numbers about how long teens spend online that came out yesterday? Let’s just say I’m in no place to be wagging my finger at today’s youth. Some of it can be excused as work. Twitter is often the place you see news alerts first, trending things you might need to know about show up on Facebook.

But in reality... I’m an addict. Yep. My name is Nadine Higgins and I’m a social media addict. The scary thing is I think half the country might need to be in a support group with me and I’m worried our addiction is making us less social, and more depressed.

Be honest. Are you guilty of checking your phone constantly, even when it hasn’t beeped? Do you feel anxious when you can’t find your phone? Do you check it at the lights, scroll through like a zombie when you’re walking down the street and while you’re meant to be listening to your partner or watching TV?

And look around, in the doctor’s waiting room, the park or the bus stop and everyone has their heads buried in their phones, opting for the online world over real life. Sometimes you see groups of friends at dinner all sitting around on their phones when they could be like, I dunno, talking to each other. It’s considered such an accepted communal space that they even report what people say and do there on the news.

Yep, it’s not just the kids is it? The country is full of addicts.

A study from Harvard University showed that self-disclosure online fires up a part of the brain that also lights up when taking addictive substances like cocaine. Cocaine!

I know it’s a waste of time. I know it’s probably rotting my brain and often it doesn’t make me feel very good, but I still do it.

That last bit, how it makes people feel, is the bit I reckon that is the real worry.

A study out this week from a Yale professor confirmed that the more people use Facebook... the worse they feel. They actually proved that link. Put that together with how long we spend online and on social media, and combine with what we know about demand for mental health services, anxiety and our suicide statistics and suddenly having a country full of social media addicts is no laughing matter.

I’m not saying it’s not the root of all evil and we must all quit it cold turkey. It can connect us, inform us, and who doesn't love a good cat videos. But it’s also used for bullying, boasting, shaming, trolling and we tend to forget that we’re viewing everybody else’s lives as a posed, filtered, photoshopped highlights reel and that can make you feel inadequate, anxious and even lonely.

So in all seriousness, if Facebook or Instagram or whatever is starting to make you feel that way, it's time to dilute its effect with a bit of unfiltered reality. Go grab a coffee with the person who cares enough to call you on your birthday and not just write on your wall.

Are you affected by an issue in this article? Here's where to get help:

Lifeline - 0800 543 354
Suicide Crisis Helpline (open 24/7) - 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)
Depression Helpline - 0800 111 757
Samaritans - 0800 726 666
Youthline (open 24/7) - 0800 376 633. Text 234 for free between 8am and midnight, or email talk@youthline.co.nz.

0800 WHATSUP (0800 9428 787), Open between 1pm and 10pm on weekdays and from 3pm to 10pm on weekends. Online chat is available from 7pm to 10pm every day at www.whatsup.co.nz.

Healthline - 0800 611 116
For more information about support and services available to you, contact the Mental Health Foundation's free Resource and Information Service on 09 623 4812 during office hours or email info@mentalhealth.org.nz

If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.