Social Media Gives and Takes in Equal Measure: Why Our Mental Health is in the Shitter

I’ve used social media to build my business and personal brand for almost a decade. And even though it has proved very effective at not only building brand awareness but also converting sales, it has also taken a lot from me.

Most notably, my mental health and self-image.

I can be found on almost every prominent social media platform there is. Although I certainly devote more time to some platforms than others, I try my best to maintain some presence, however small, on them all. I’ve never had a “viral moment” that earned me millions of followers overnight. Rather, it’s been slow and consistent work that has compounded and multiplied over time. Occasionally, I do have a video or a post that goes “soft-viral,” and for a few days I see a spike in my metrics. But far more often, it’s simply a game of “slow and steady wins the race.”

Now, after almost ten years of this work, I have almost a million followers combined across all my platforms. Having these large platforms has opened doors that would have been much harder to open without them. As a non-fiction author, my social media presence helped me win a literary agent and my first book deal. When I pitched to Psychology Today to maintain a recurring column on their website, the possibility of me bringing my audience to their page was certainly a contributing factor. And my income from social media has helped my husband and I pay down our debts, take our children to Disney World, and start building a nest-egg for our future.

But with all those incredible benefits has also come a lot of heartache and time in therapy.

These platforms have algorithms that are designed to shout down positive and inspirational content and prop up in its place the kind of content that is divisive and controversial. You work so hard to create impactful content, only to see it get lost in the ether. It can’t get any legs under it when the algorithms only want to push content that “sparks conversations” (read: piss people off).

Not only that, the internet can just be a cruel, heartless world sometimes.

I don’t rage-farm. I don’t clickbait. I don’t make problematic or even controversial content. I come to the internet every day to share what, I hope, is relatable, authentic, and vulnerable content that brings value to my followers. And yet, every day I am met with an outpouring of rancor and hate. My appearance, my intellect, my worth, and my value are all brought under attack by nameless and faceless trolls intent to ruin someone else’s day. Then there is the endless work of fighting off the folks who deliberately misunderstand (You said you love apples, I guess that means you hate oranges?!), who issue whataboutisms (breast cancer sucks?? What about prostate cancer?!), or who otherwise engage in bad-faith argumentation.

It’s exhausting. And it has taken a major toll on my mental health.

Three years ago, I began seeing a therapist. I was in therapy to deal with some issues in my marriage and to sort out what I needed to do about them. But what ended up taking a lot of my (very costly) time in therapy was discussing what was happening to me online.

I’m a tough person. I’m relatively self-confident and self-assured. But receiving an outpouring of hate every day for simply existing takes a toll. Through therapy, I have gained tools for coping with it so that it doesn’t threaten my sanity or my self-esteem. Nonetheless, some days it’s hard not to internalize it all.

None of us were meant to exist this way. This was not the vision of “community” we once had, and that we now aspire to. It is ugly, and full of malice. It is intentionally cruel. I try to remind myself to focus on the good—to ignore the hate while engaging intentionally with my kind, loving, supportive audience who wants to hear what I have to say. That gets hard, though, when these platforms do everything possible to ignite tensions rather than extinguish them.

I worry about our collective mental health and well-being. I worry about what this is doing to our brain chemistry—if the use of social media and all the hate therein is fundamentally changing our brains at a molecular level that will get passed down to the next generations.

I have no answers. I have only the commitment to not be like that: to not let the hurt and the hate rob me of the good work I know I can do, to not let it rob me of my own positive self-image.

I hope one day things change. Until then, I hope we all remain resilient, kind, and most of all, human.


Amber Wardell is a doctor of psychology and author who speaks on women’s issues related to marriage, motherhood, and mental health. Subscribe to the free newsletter to get exclusive content delivered to your inbox and to never miss an upload.

Check out her blog called Compassionate Feminism on Psychology Today to join a feminist conversation centered in openness, empathy, and equity.

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