Let’s Talk About Masculinity

There is much talk about violations, cruelty and brutality in the public discussion of war, but very little talk about men. Yet, factually speaking, it is mainly men who are the practitioners of organized violence as its ideologues, planners, technical designers, and its workforce at the sharp end.

So, why don’t we all talk about men, masculinity and male cultures of violence much more in the humanitarian world?

Academics have long discussed masculinity and violence in military sociology. Many others have now joined them from gender studies. The study of gang cultures in urban violence in the last few years has been explicitly focused on men and masculinity as drivers of that violence. But analysis of masculinity remains largely absent in the political, policy and media communities that come together around war.

Why the silence? Why aren’t men and masculinity called out much more as the main causes of the terrible abuses and tragedy of armed conflicts—its indiscriminate attacks, inhumane detention and sexual violence?

There seems to be a genuine emotional difficulty with the subject.

But, first, we need to be clear on the facts.

Mainly men

Is it mainly men who are responsible for the horrors of war? The answer is yes. The cultures and institutions that prepare for and deliver organized armed violence on behalf of the State or non-State armed groups are predominantly constructed by men, led by men and filled with men.

There have always been exceptions to this rule, as there are today, with women fighters at the frontline, senior women military strategists and women Heads of State who take their countries into war. In an increasing number of liberal militaries today, there is a determination to enable women to serve in the armed forces, which may lead to changes in the culture of war and, equally, may not. A majority of women often support war and can become full of loathing for their enemies. But still, the evidence tells us that it is mainly men who organize and deliver violence, and it usually has been.

It seems fair, therefore, to call men out on war—just so long as we also recognize that every act of restraint, compassion and lawfulness in the planning and delivery of violence in armed conflict is also likely to be the action of men. We need to remember that male warrior culture can be kind as well as cruel.

A difficult subject

Even if the evidence is clear, the subject seems difficult to raise. It is a painful subject for most of us because each of us—men and women—knows that although this fact of male violence is true, it is only one truth about men and only one truth about each man.

This all makes the masculinity of war difficult to talk about. Most of us do not want to paint men as predominantly violent. This would be unfair and risks stereotyping men into a corner from which they will probably fight their way out. We need a more nuanced and caring discussion—human to human. This is hard to do in the knock-about macho culture of public advocacy that is so frequently driven by the ‘outrage’ of both men and women in the advocacy set.

Law does not help much here. Talking about the violence and suffering of war in highly legal terms leads to public descriptions of armed conflict that can be abstract and gender neutral. Largely male behaviours are described remotely as ‘violations’ and ‘abuses’ committed by ‘parties to conflict’. These legal terms are seldom attributed directly to men, when they usually should be. Legal speak often obscures rather than reveals the gendering of violence.

Suffering, on the other hand, is stereotyped as largely female today with a foregrounding of the pain of women and children. Some female focused policies of aid could verge on breaching the principle of impartiality, which is based on need alone, and not identity. But men suffer terribly in war as well, and many resist the mainly male violence of a conflict, and non-violently support the rescue and survival of their families.

Let’s talk about it—Masculinity and war

Let’s break the silence about mainly male violence. We can and should talk about men and masculinity in war, or even men and masculinity as war.

We can do this by owning the problem and creating a more honest and realistic policy discussion of masculinity and war, which can be carefully informed by psychology, ethics, sociology, biology and, of course, humanity.

Steven Connelly

Mental Health Resources and Organisations.

This is a range of Mental Health resources and organisations throughout Ayrshire and Scotland. This will always be available on my Twitter page to use whenever you need it !! Don’t suffer in silence, your not alone and it’s ok not to be ok.

Please retweet and let’s reach out to as many people as we possibly can.


IRVINE – MINT (Men In Need Together)

IRVINE – MINT is a Men’s Mental Health support group is open for any man that is struggling in life, whether it’s a medical condition, a sad event that has happened or if you are just genuinely feeling down and out.

There is no problem too big or too small and all are welcome to join the amazing and supportive team every Monday evening. You can speak as much or as little as you wish, sometimes just listening to other men speak about their demons can enrich you with confidence to speak but that’s entirely up to you 💙

Join IRVINE – MINT for a laid back chat, some laughter every Monday evening, let’s talk.

Details are as follows:-

– Fullerton Connection

– Church Street

– Irvine

– North Ayrshire

– KA12 8PE

– 6:30 – 8:30 PM

– Completely free to attend

– Free tea/coffee and biscuits

Don’t leave your problems till it’s too late and join us and other attendees in a loving non-judgmental environment and let’s start this journey together 💚




Facebook: IRVINE – MINT

Fit Ayrshire Dads is an inspirational and a fastest growing community the first of its kind in the UK.

They have arrange a tremendous and a huge number and variety of activities throughout Ayrshire ranging from running, football, walk and talk events, OCR (Obstacle Course Races), cycling, cross-fit, bootcamps, yoga, badmington, hill walking – you name it, we do it, in a weekley basis.

There social media pages and posts are 100% positive – spamming others posts with “banter” and negativity is strictly prohibited. Only positivity is welcome at Fit Ayrshire Dads.

In there short time the group have helped numerous men, they have given them an outlet and a platform to pick themselves up mentally and physically – becoming more active, outgoing and healthy.

Chances are, if you are struggling, there is someone on the page who has been through or is still going through the same thing you are. On a daily basis, as a group Fit Ayrshire Dads are helping men of all ages and stages improve their mental and physical health through there weekley and planned activities.

If you (or someone you know) are struggling with your weight, a break-up, financially or you just generally feel like the world is crumbling around you. Please don’t suffer alone. Reach out, connect with Fit Ayrshire Dads on Facebook or Twitter and them us help you.

There community is all about making the men of Ayrshire feel a part of something whilst looking out for each other.

Break The Silence

Break The Silence is a registered charity in East Ayrshire.

It provides a range of tailored, holistic support options for Survivors of rape and childhood sexual abuse, aged 13 years.

Options for support include; one to one professional counselling using qualified Psychotherapists, outreach counselling, couple support, complementary therapies, advocacy, group activities, and volunteering opportunities.

All support is designed to assist Survivors to work through their trauma, move forward and improve their social well-being and psychological health,enabling and supporting Survivors to achieve an attainable standard of living, health and family life.

Break the Silence operate Monday to Friday 9am-4.30pm.

Contact: Tel: 01563 559558
Email (general enquiries): info@breakthesilence.org.uk

Moving on Ayrshire

Moving on Ayrshire is a charity based in Ayr which provides a counselling service at locations throughout South Ayrshire.

They offer survivors of sexual abuse and rape free one to one person-centred counselling in a safe environment which can enable them to address their issues and helps them work towards a healthier and happier future. In the immediate aftermath of rape they provide outstanding and personal centred support and counselling to help victims deal with the complex feelings and emotions that have resulted from their trauma.

Contact: 01292 290546 and speak to someone in confidence.

Rape Crisis Scotland runs a free helpline which offers free confidential support

Contact: 0141 331 4180


Survivor Scotland raise awareness of childhood abuse and of the long term consequences, help to improve the support services and enhance the health and wellbeing of survivors.

Contact: www.survivorscotland.org.uk

Police Scotland are committed to supporting survivors of rape and sexual abuse, irrespective of when the crime happened

To report a crime:  101

In an emergency:    999


Future Pathways supports people aged over 18 who experienced abuse or neglect as a child living in care in Scotland.  They offer access to a wide range of supports to help people find their own pathways to a positive future.

Contact: 0808 164 2005


 South Ayrshire Womens Aid provide a confidential service that works towards prevention of domestic abuse

Contact: 01292 266482



South Ayrshire Council Child Protection

Social Work – emergency contact:  01292 267 675 (out of hours: 0800 811 505)


SAMH: SAMH is Scotland’s National Mental Health Organisation. This amazing charity works with adults and young people providing unique and essential mental health support in education establishments, and primary care services.

Contact: http://www.samh.org.uk

0141 530 1000

Victim Support – IRVINE

Is an independent charity, that work towards a world where people affected by crime or traumatic events get the support they need and the respect they deserve. They help people feel safer and find the strength to move beyond crime. There support is free, confidential and tailored to meet the of the clients.

Contact: www.victimsupport.org.uk/

01294 277 040

Victim Support Scotland.

Contact: www.victimsupport.org.uk/

0800 160 1985

NHS 24 – Scotland’s national Telehealth and Telecare organisation

Call free on 111 if you are ill and can’t wait until your regular NHS service reopens.

Adult Mental Health Service North Ayrshire – 01294 470010

East Ayrshire – 01563 578592

South Ayrshire – 01292 559777

Living Life – Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) telephone service

Living Life is a free telephone service available to anyone over the age of 16 who is suffering from low mood, mild to moderate depression and/or anxiety.

Phone free on the confidential line 0800 328 9655 (Mon – Fri 1pm to 9pm). You will be asked to provide some details and then an assessment appointment will be arranged to discuss the service and how it can help.

Breathing Space

Breathing Space is a free and confidential phoneline service for people in Scotland, particularly men, who are experiencing low mood or depression and need someone to talk to.

Phone 0800 83 85 87 lines open 24hrs at weekends and 6pm to 2am (Mon – Thu)

Website: http://www.breathingspacescotland.co.uk


Confidential support for people experiencing feelings of distress or despair.

Phone 116 123 (24-hour helpline)

Website: http://www.samaritans.org.uk


A private and confidential service for children and young people up to the age of 19.

Phone 0800 1111

Website: http://www.childline.org.uk

National Debt Line

A free, confidential debt advice service run by the charity Money Advice Trust.

Phone 0808 808 4000 (Mon – Fri 9am to 9pm, Sat 9:30am to 1pm)

Gamblers Anonymous Scotland

Phone 0370 050 8881 (24-hour helpline)

Website: http://www.gascotland.org

Alcoholics Anonymous

Phone 0845 769 7555 (24-hour helpline)

Website: http://www.alcoholics-anonymous.org.uk

Add Action – South Ayrshire

Providing support and encouragement to people struggling with alcohol and problematic substance abuse.

Contact: 01292 430 520

Www. Addaction.org.uk

Add Action – East Ayrshire

Contact: 01563 558 777

Talk to Frank

24-hour helpline offering information and advice to anybody concerned about drugs and substance misuse. Provides information about local services and support groups and national drug resources.

Phone 0300 123 6600 24-hour helpline

Website: http://www.talktofrank.com

Anxiety UK

A support group for those living with anxiety and anxiety-based depression.

Phone 08444 755 774

Website http://www.anxietyuk.org.uk

Release (Ayrshire)

A confidential resource for anyone to get in touch who are struggling and need to talk to experienced volunteers about anything.



Minds Over Matter

A local group that meets up in various locations in South Ayrshire offering a range of services to help people with their overall mental health and well being



Facebook: minds over matter

A New Hope

A community group meeting weekly in North Ayrshire if your feeling hopeless or lost or just need a chat free of judgement

Facebook: A new Hope

Twitter: @ANewHopeMaleMe1

Suicides of Young People

When a young person’s life is tragically cut short by suicide, the impact is catastrophic – completely devastating families and affecting the lives of many others who knew them.

While there is clearly a public interest in reporting youth suicides and suicide clusters, it’s important for journalists to be aware that young people who are affected by suicide – for example a death at their school or university – are at increased risk of suicide contagion.

Studies have shown that people who are bereaved by suicide are at increased risk of suicide themselves. A large body of evidence exists which links certain types of media reporting to an increase in suicide rates.

Deaths of young people by suicide are more likely to be reported.

Suicides by young people under the age of 25 account for 11% of all suicide deaths in the UK. However, these deaths are far more extensively covered in the news compared to other age groups.

Youth suicides are frequently reported in a more sensational way. This could include romanticised language, lots of photographs of the young people or person who has died, outpourings of grief and memorials, and often, intense speculation on possible causes. 

Young people can be especially vulnerable

For young people, the risk of influencing suicidal behaviour is greater for a number of reasons, including them being:

▪ more influenced by what they see and hear in the media than other groups

▪ increased risk of imitative suicidal behaviour

▪ increased risk of suicide contagion if they’ve been affected by suicide

▪ more likely to behave spontaneously

▪ less likely to have gained the level of emotional maturity which helps us to see a way through problems encountered in life (an issue like relationship breakdown or academic failure, can feel all-consuming and never-ending, increasing the likelihood of these experiences feeling overwhelming)

▪ less likely to fully understand the permanency of suicide – increasing their risk of suicide ideation and contagion. Suicide is a very permanent response to what are typically temporary problems.

Give extra consideration

In my opinion and experience please give extra consideration to reports covering suicidal behaviour by young people including attempts, deaths and inquests. 

In addition, language and tone are important. Carefully consider the inclusion of comments posted on social media sites, as these can sometimes inadvertently romanticise suicidal behaviour. Examples include: “Heaven’s gained another angel” and “You’re at peace now”.

Extra care should be taken around speculation of causes. For example, when a suicide death is reported and bullying is cited as the cause, it’s helpful to consider the impact on other young people who could be experiencing bullying and may feel hopeless about their own situation – stories including how a young person took their life, lots of photographs, outpourings of grief, revenge messages directed at bullies – can increase the likelihood of others identifying with the person who has died and could lead to suicide contagion.

It’s particularly important to be aware of the risk of inadvertently promoting the idea of achieving something through death which didn’t seem possible in life. This could encourage the idea of suicide to another young person who is vulnerable and make it feel like a suitable option for them too.

Reducing the risk

With young readers in mind

▪ avoid giving details of the suicide method

▪ bear in mind that suicide is complex and rarely, if ever, as a result of a single cause

▪ avoid showing photographs of others who have died

▪ stick with a factual tone – publish a respectful tribute piece, focusing on the tragic loss of life without overly romanticising a suicide death

▪ remind your audience that suicide is preventable and signpost people to sources of support (see the bottom of this blog for examples)

This is not about censoring or an attempt to brush the topic of suicide under the carpet. I personally do not believe that suicides by young people, or indeed any age group, should not be covered in the press. It is simply about giving extra consideration about how these stories are covered because of the extra vulnerabilities of young people.

The media can raise awareness

The media can play an important role in raising awareness of the issues surrounding suicidal behaviour and supporting national efforts to reduce the number of suicides in the UK.

Highlighting the importance of talking and encouraging people to reach out and seek help can help to reduce suicides and there is a growing area of literature which suggests that responsible reports of suicide, such as stories which promote suicide prevention messages and encourage people to seek help, can reach out to people and help prevent suicides.

The media help raise awareness of the issues surrounding suicide, highlighting:

▪ the type of problems which may lead a person to become vulnerable to suicide

▪ the signs which may indicate they are struggling to cope

▪ remind people who may be vulnerable that suicide is not inevitable, it is preventable

▪ encourage help-seeking behaviour by promoting the benefits of talking and signposting sources of support.

A powerful way to spread these vital messages can be through real life stories of people who have reached a difficult time in their life.

People call Samaritans for free any time on 116 123, email jo@samaritans.org, or visit http://www.samaritans.org to find details of their nearest branch.

Call Breathing Space: 0800 83 85 87 or visit http://www.breathingspace.scot for more information.

Steven Connelly

Self Harm: Helping Men and Young People to Access Support.

I’m writing this blog as somebody who has struggled and suffered with self-harm for over 15 years now.

Every year during self-harm awareness day in March, self harm keeps receiving more and more attention, but there is still a long way to go.

There’s a lot of research out there about self-harm; statistics show that the UK has one of the highest rates in Europe. We know that it is particularly prevalent among young people, and it is generally thought that more girls self-harm than boys. However, self-harm is a very difficult thing to research accurately, because so many people keep it secret. This is even more the case for young men, who are less likely to open up about their emotional and mental lives.

So what do we actually know about young men who harm themselves?

The biggest difference, it seems, is that males are far less likely to seek help following self-harming. This includes general support, such as seeing their GP or using internet support forums, but also necessary physical treatment. Young men are less likely to go to hospital (even for serious cuts or overdoses), and if they do go, they are more likely to claim it was an accident. This is very concerning, not just because of the physical risk, but because they will not have a chance to talk about their problems or get support for their mental health.

Like females who self-harm, most males harm themselves to reduce emotional pain or distress.  However, research suggests that males tend to use self-harm as a last resort for coping with difficulties in their lives. As a result, they are more likely to use drugs or alcohol at the same time, or hurt themselves using violent methods. Despite this, they may not see self-harm as a problem. In fact, a lot of young men say they harm themselves in order to fit in with their friends. This is a really big deal: not only are young men more likely to keep their problems quiet until they reach breaking point, they may actually think it is okay to self-harm because their peers accept it.

But does any of this mean we should support men who self-harm differently from women? In many respects, it doesn’t. Most things which can be done to support those who self-harm do not depend on whether the person is male, female, transgender or otherwise. Such things might include telling the person that you do not judge them, letting them contact you when they are struggling, or providing them with ideas to distract themselves from self-harm.

However, it is key to bear in mind that a young man may feel less able to open up or see their self-harm as a problem. This does not mean encouraging them to quit self-harming before they feel ready, or telling them that what they are doing is wrong. It just means encouraging them that it is okay to talk, and emphasising how important it is to get treatment for self-harm. Knowing where to turn for help can be a long process for anybody, and for young men, the road to recovery may have a few more obstacles in the way.  However, by simply being kind and encouraging openness, hopefully those obstacles can be broken down a little quicker.

Steven Connelly

Essential Resource Information

If you are struggling and in distress please don’t try and cope alone.

Talking really does help and is life changing. It won’t necessarily take away your pain, negative thoughts and feelings but it can make it a little bit easier to cope with.

If you decide that you could benefit from talking and want to engage in conversation but your unsure who to trust and talk to.

Resource Information is listed below

A New Hope: Peer, Social and Support group for men living with mental health issues:

Email Us: anewhopemalegroup@gmail.com

samaritans: 08457 90 90 90

The Samaritans also offer an email service if you would prefer to write down how you are feeling: jo@samaritans.org or visit the website: http://www.samaritans.org

Breathing Space:

0800 83 85 87

SAMH: 0141 530 1000

Broken Rainbow: Lesbian, Gay, Bi Sexual, Transgender (LGBT) Domestic Violence Helpline:

Contact: 0300 999 5428


Mind Infoline: 0300 123 3393


Young Minds:

Young Minds Crisis Messenger: If you need urgent help text YM to 85258

Young Minds Parents Helpline: 0808 802 5544

The Mix

Helpline: 0808 808 4994


Self harm

Rape Crisis

Helpline: 0808 802 9999 (12-2:30 and 7-9:30)


Victim Support

Supportline: 0333 300 6389


Helpline: 0808 800 5000 (24 hours, every day)


Survivors UK – Male Rape and Sexual Abuse Support


Anxiety Alliance

Helpline: 0845 296 7877 (10-10 daily)


No Panic

Helpline: 0844 967 4848



HOPELINEUK: 0800 068 4141


Students Against Depression


Aware Defeat Depression

Helpline: 08451 202 961


Talk to FRANK

Freephone: 0300 123 6600



Helpline: 0300 123 1110

Alcoholics Anonymous

National helpline: 0800 9177 650


NACOA (National Association for Children of Alcoholics)

Helpline: 0800 358 3456

Gamblers Anonymous (UK)

Helplines: See contact page for regional phone numbers


Gam Anon

Helpline 08700 50 88 80 24

National Debtline

Helpline: 0808 808 4000


NHS 111

NHS 111 can help if you have an urgent medical problem and you’re not sure what to do.

Why Men Should Talk About Mental Health

As a man, I am acutely aware of the problems surrounding speaking out and talking to others about mental health. The fact that suicide is the biggest killer of men under 45 speaks volumes. Clearly something is convincing men that the only way out is suicide. This needs to be tackled and I feel the best way is by getting people in society as a whole to talk about mental health more openly and honestly.

Since volunteering with charity Epilepsy Connections and helping to facilitate a men’s mental health peer, support and social group A New Hope in Ayrshire I have started therapy and blogging about my mental health; I have begun to reflect more on being a man and having a mental illness and how in the past stigmatisation has prevented me from getting support and help. I have also started to take more notice of how it can still prevent me now from speaking out. It’s been expected that as a man, I would be strong, stoic and not talk about my feelings; I vividly remember my uncle (despite being quite progressive and open around many issues) shying away from talking about his depression and anxiety. It’s only now I can look back on how much of my social anxiety is similar to his, in isolating myself from people, avoiding social situations and being extremely nervous and afraid around people, particularly in authority.

My uncle Michael never spoke openly about these issues and even when he was diagnosed with terminal cancer he hid away his pain and tears from me and my family. I still remember him not wanting the nurses at the palliative care unit to look at him when he was crying and how ashamed he felt to have to rely on them for help. This makes me upset and makes me often wonder how much better he could have felt emotionally and mentally if only he had seen examples of men talking about their feelings, he could have felt better at accepting help and talking about his emotions. Which is why I don’t want other generations to go through that, and don’t particularly want to go through it myself. No person; whether male, female or transitioning, should be made to feel like they can’t talk about their mental health, as it is as normal as talking about physical health and a mental illness can affect anyone.

What would I say though to encourage others to speak out? After all I still struggle many days to cope with low mood and depression, and when facing new situations I still feel anxious. On top of that, everyone is different and experiences often vary on mental illness. What I can say though is that speaking out and talking about my mental health has allowed me to understand my coping techniques, what works for me and has given me assurance that even when things get rough, there are people out there who understand me, can help me and there are techniques and coping strategies I can employ to help me get through the rough times.

I have had recent experiences of this, from when I’ve felt really anxious about a situation. I get the usual feelings of sickness, my mind going round and round with theories on how the situation will go terribly and feeling like I can’t concentrate on anything but the situation. However, sharing how I feel in a safe space, either online to a friend from volunteering or in a mental health group I’m a member of online, has allowed me to find support from others who understand my feelings, make me feel recognised and understood and give me tips on how to cope better with rough days.

Thanks to my therapy, I now make a point of writing down how I feel when I’m anxious or depressed and I have also recently taken to doing calming exercises taken from mindfulness such as deep breathing and grounding techniques where you focus on something in the present and try to take your mind away from thinking you can’t cope. These all help, but it wouldn’t have been possible for me to employ these techniques without coming across them from friends and support groups. Which in turn wouldn’t have been possible without speaking out and talking about my mental health.

Society should encourage everyone to do this, and it should encourage people to see their mental health as worthy of the same treatment that their physical health is. So I urge anyone feeling depressed, anxious or worried about their mental health, talk to someone and get support for how you are feeling. Both you and your brain are worthy of the support. You are never alone.

Steven Connelly


Anxiety, loneliness and Fear of Missing Out: The impact of social media on young people’s mental health

The rapid growth of social media over the last decade has established an entirely new medium for human interaction. Online platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram have allowed people in every corner of the world to be connected 24/7. By 2021, it is forecast that there will be around 3 billion active monthly users of social media. From the statistics alone, it’s clear that social media has become an integral (and to a large extent, unavoidable) part of our lives.

One implication of social media’s rapid rise, that of its relationship with young people’s mental health, has gathered a significant amount of attention in recent years. Research has created a wide evidence-base supporting an association between social media use and mental health, and although still emerging, new evidence has painted a broad picture of the main impacts. The popularity of social media as a medium of communication for young people needs to be carefully examined, as it may indeed come to play a more detrimental role than we might have thought.

From the statistics alone, it’s clear that social media has become an integral (and to a large extent, unavoidable) part of our lives

So-called ‘social media addiction’ has been referred to by a wide variety of studies and experiments. It is thought that addiction to social media affects around 5% of young people, and was recently described as potentially more addictive than alcohol and cigarettes. Its ‘addictive’ nature owes to the degree of compulsivity with which it is used. The ‘urge’ to check one’s social media may be linked to both instant gratification (the need to experience fast, short term pleasure) and dopamine production (the chemical in the brain associated with reward and pleasure). The desire for a ‘hit’ of dopamine, coupled with a failure to gain instant gratification, may prompt users to perpetually refresh their social media feeds.

What is dangerous about this compulsive use is that, if gratification is not experienced, users may internalise beliefs that this is due to being ‘unpopular’, ‘unfunny’ etc. A lack of ‘likes’ on a status update may cause negative self-reflection, prompting continual ‘refreshing’ of the page in the hope of seeing that another person has ‘enjoyed’ the post, thus helping to achieve personal validation. Although these perceptions may not actually reflect one’s image in the eyes of others, the absence of gratification may amplify feelings of anxiety and loneliness. A recent study conducted by the OECD, for instance, found that those who used social media more intensively on average had lower life satisfaction.

The desire for a ‘hit’ of dopamine, coupled with a failure to gain instant gratification, may prompt users to perpetually refresh their social media feeds.

Associated with this desire for instant gratification is the negative impact that these platforms can have on sleep and sleep quality. Data from qualitative studies has shown that using social media compulsively can damage sleeping patterns, having an adverse effect on young people’s performance in school. The University of Glasgow found that young people found it difficult to relax following night time social media use, reducing their brain’s ability to prepare for sleep. Sleep loss works in a vicious cycle of reinforcement with mental health; that is, that loss of sleep due to night time social media use can lead to poorer mental health, and poor mental health can lead to intense night time use and sleep loss.

Social media can also heighten anxiety by increasing users’ ability to keep up to date with the activities of their social circles. The popular concept of Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) refers to ‘a pervasive apprehension that others might be having rewarding experiences from which one is absent’ and is ‘characterised by the desire to stay continually connected with what others are doing’. FOMO has been linked to intensive social media use and is associated with lower mood and life satisfaction. We have become more aware of what we are missing out on, for example, seeing photos of friends having a good time together in one’s absence. ‘Always on’ communication technology can cause feelings of anxiety, loneliness and inadequacy through highlighting these activities, compelling users to stay continually engaged and up to date due to fear of not being involved. Humans are social beings who desire group interaction, therefore perceived exclusion can have damaging psychological impacts. Indeed, studies from the USA have found a robust association between intense social media use, fear of missing out and both depression and anxiety.

Fear of Missing Out has been linked to intensive social media use and is associated with lower mood and life satisfaction

From another angle, online platforms may also have the potential to damage mental wellbeing through promoting unreasonable expectations. Social media has been linked to poor self-esteem and self-image through the advent of image manipulation on photo sharing platforms. In particular, the notion of the ‘idealised body image’ has arguably been detrimental to self-esteem and image, especially that of young women. The 24/7 circulation of easily viewable manipulated images promotes and entrenches unrealistic expectations of how young people should look and behave. When these expectations are inevitably not met, the impact on self-esteem can be damaging, to the disturbing extent that the Royal Society of Public Health recently found 9 in 10 young females say that they are unhappy with the way they look.

The rise of social media has been a fundamentally multifaceted phenomenon, the statistics suggesting that it will come to play an increasingly dominant role in our lives. The evidence suggests that social media use is strongly associated with anxiety, loneliness and depression. Whether it is causal or just a correlation will need to be further examined by researchers, mental health policy stakeholders and the social media industry. In the meantime, we must think very carefully about how we can manage its impact on mental health, for instance, through integrating social media ‘lessons’ into subjects in school, the use of behavioural economics and increased signposting efforts by social media firms.

Steven Connelly