“Social media can function as a tool for care when people use it to access or share information and resources related to mental health that they wouldn’t have access to otherwise.”
In one of her studies, Gravel-Patry interviewed 22 women to see how they were using Instagram to cope with mental-health issues.
“Instagram didn’t completely change their lives from one day to the next, but when it became a habit — combined with other practices like therapy and medication — it helped women get better,” she says. One of Instagram’s advantages is that the platform’s strong visual presence is comforting to users — text-based visuals can help break down concepts more easily.
“It also has what I call a message of hope,” adds Gravel-Patry. “You can use it to see people who are already a couple of steps ahead in their healing journey, and it kind of helps you see that there is hope in getting better.”
Najmeh Khalili-Mahani, BEng 98, MA 08, an affiliate assistant professor in the Department of Design and Computation Arts and Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, echoes Gravel-Patry’s findings. “The benefits trump the risks,” she says.
During the COVID-19 lockdowns in 2020, Khalili-Mahani carried out the study “What Media Helps, What Media Hurts: Coping with COVID-19 with Screens,” which weighed the pros and cons of social media in users’ lives. Among the responses, her findings revealed that women and nonbinary individuals were twice as likely as men to turn to social media as a means of coping with mental-health issues.