'Perfect family' posts on social media fuel anxiety, says survey
Dubai - Parents think that social media channels create unrealistic and unattainable expectations of family life.
Does linking up with other mothers and fathers on Facebook and Instagram make parents happier? The answer, it would seem, is "no".
A survey by Priory Group, mental healthcare specialists with a well-being centre in Dubai, found that as many as half of parents polled think that social media channels like Instagram and Facebook create unrealistic and unattainable expectations of family life, which fuel anxiety and can trigger depression. The survey was done in September among 1,002 parents of youth under the age of 18.
More than one in five parents (22 per cent) said that happy family pictures posted on Instagram, or exuberant baby blog posts on Facebook and other sites, made them feel "inadequate" - while a similar number, 23 per cent, said it made them feel "depressed".
They didn't think they were alone.
Nearly 40 per cent said they thought idealised images of parenthood - and "over-sharenting" - were fuelling anxiety among new parents, while more than a third (36 per cent) said they thought baby bloggers and 'Insta-mums' were contributing to rising rates of depression.
Some 43 per cent said the bloggers made others feel inadequate, while more than one in 10 said that rather than feel more connected to other mothers, they could make new parents feel even more isolated.
While the desire to share the joy of having a newborn in the family is nothing new, social media platforms have taken proud parenting to a new level, with "baby boasting", "parenting wins" and "mummy-goals" becoming as much part of the daily routine as breastfeeding and nappy-changes.
There are, of course, clear benefits to "being social" - particularly for mothers without a close network at hand. Social media can be reassuring for new parents who turn to their online community for advice on anything from health, relationships, "best buys", and general parenting techniques.
For others, however, endlessly "perfect" posts can have the reverse effect, generating feelings of not measuring up, even though they know that continuous boasting, and glossing over the less positive moments in life, is disingenuous and fake.
Results not surprising
Dr Rasha Bassim, consultant psychiatrist at Priory, said: "While extremely worrying, these latest findings come as no surprise. In today's society, the social media influence on many new parents starts from the moment they carry out a positive pregnancy test."
"From finding out the gender of their baby and planning a baby shower, to creating an 'idealistic' birth plan, social media is awash with posts depicting and normalising unrealistic expectations of motherhood."
Around one in five women have mental health problems during pregnancy or in the first year after birth. Depression and anxiety in particular are extremely common and can cause significant suffering if left untreated.
While 'baby-blues' tend to last for just a couple of weeks, post-natal depression is far more intense and debilitating. So, considering the major life changes pregnancy and motherhood entail, not forgetting the accompanying roller coaster of emotions, social media presents a real danger of compounding and exacerbating what can already be an extremely anxious, stressful, and exhausting time.
"Of course, social media can have its place, but I would advise all new mums to enter the social media bubble with caution," she said.
She also said, "Over half of women with mental health problems in pregnancy or after birth are not identified. Even fewer have the evidence-based treatments they need. So, its vital new mums are open and honest about their feelings and concerns and seek professional help when necessary."
Bijal Oza, global director for counseling and coaching centre and clinical psychologist, SP Jain School of Business Management, said that social media could help new parents who are in need of assurance or validation about the challenges of parenting. "However, new parents need to be self- aware of the consequences of constant comparisons, and overload of information on parenting. Being mindful and self-aware can help new parents navigate through the pressures of social media," she said.
Dr Deepa Shankar, clinical psychologist at NMC, said that on social media, people generally tend to portray themselves in a highly positive manner.
"This can cause stress, and help, too. It has both effects and depends on the tendencies of the parent. Mothers who have perfectionist traits and a tendency to constantly compare themselves to others on social networking sites may feel more depressed and less competent as parents," said Shankar.
Research shows that it's not how long the new mother spends their time on social media rather how they spend their time is more important. This as well as whether mothers compare themselves to others may ultimately affect mothers' adjustment to parenthood and well-being.
"Social networking can also benefit a mother by providing a support system if she uses it to get information and share her experience, rather than compare," Shankar said.
Parent's guide to social media, good mental health
> Be brave and unfollow or unfriend: The simple step of hitting the unfollow button on a 'friend's' Instagram or Facebook account can really help release the pressure and instil a sense of calm. Likewise, unfollowing celebrity mums or 'Insta-mums' will instantly remove comparisons with their unique and often unattainable lifestyles.
> If you want to spend time online, use apps and websites that will help you as a parent: Apps such as "Mush" (www.letsmush.com) help mums connect with other local mums; here you can share the ups and downs of parenting and avoid being isolated.
> Remain 'guilt-free' and always remember your 'me time': Having some 'me time' is a necessity to surviving the day-to-day life as a mum. Just 15-20 mins to unwind every day can have significant emotional benefits.
> Be prepared: It's important for pregnant women and new mums to treat their mental health with as much care as they do for their physical health. If you've had mental health problems previously, or if you have current symptoms, talk to your doctor as soon as possible. They will know what help and support there is in your area. Getting help early on means you have a chance to prevent illness, or at least to have treatment early before problems become too serious.
> Get enough sleep: Quality sleep can be a real problem when you have a newborn to attend to, but not getting enough can seriously exacerbate mental ill health. When the baby naps, forget about the washing-up, dirty nappies, etc - they can all wait. Grab a 10-15-minute power nap at the same time. You will feel so much better for it.
> Accept offers of help: Don't struggle in silence and be afraid of relying on others. Ask for help from family and friends, whether it's to cook dinner or look after the children while you go for a lie-down - most will only be too happy to help.
> Chat it out: It's easy to feel isolated when you're home with a baby all day, so make sure you stay engaged with the people in your life, preferably face-to-face and not online. Talking about your day, your feelings, or even your favourite TV show with a partner or friend can have a positive effect on your emotional well-being.
> Ride the emotional roller coaster: Emotional ups and downs are normal. But a ride that only goes down is broken. Get help if you're not bonding; if you start to have negative thoughts about the baby or yourself; or if you experience severe mood swings for more than a couple of weeks.