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Social Media and Wellbeing aka Facebook vs Reality / 16 October 2012

When you only have an hour and a half to run a workshop it can go either way – As a facilitator it can be the longest, loneliest 90 minutes you never want to experience  - or -  you ask your co-facilitator how we doing for time and synchronise an OMG!  Where did that go so fast? Actually it was a WTF? But you need to at least try to be professional.

Really though. You can only ever scratch the surface of a topic like Social Media and Wellbeing as myself and Victoria Betton  (@victoriabetton)discovered at the Round Foundry as part of Leeds Digital Festival on the 11th October 2012. The event, Facebook vs Reality tied in with Love Art Leeds, a month long foray into all that is Mental Health related, and coincided with photographer Anna Roberts exhibition

The audience were a diverse mix of those who live, eat and breathe social media to six formers and those who are trying to get to grips with it for work and everywhere in between. Surprisingly, and refreshingly, there were no professionals from the mental health services. Refreshing because I find it heartening that people are interested in wellbeing  – their own and others – in the digital age without it being their job. It helps me kid myself that stigma is easing and boundaries being eroded.

A large cohort were freelancers where the distinction between virtual  and real world entities are not so distinct. As one person said ‘We are our brand’  and that is reflected in the Twittersphere, on Facebook and shot through by Instagram. Perhaps too, for the freelancer, Social Media can stop or salve that feeling of isolation, that dissociation from the world of colleagues and teams.

We looked at different platforms and why we liked or loathed them, the advantages and pitfalls – the ‘Life Leakers’ and the ‘Sharers and Spillers’. But what was really great was that people felt safe enough in that short space of time to disclose about episodes of depression and cycles of disorders  and how that is perceived by the author and the viewer of ‘updates’.

Yes, the more connected we become the less connected we might actually be, but if we have authentic digital relationships we can feel part of a supportive community. We do not have to compare ourselves with the extroverts with a thousand ‘friends’ and think how empty and dull our own life is. A few present, me included, had met people in real life – particularly through Twitter – and that had and does enrich our lives. At one stage everyone grouped together according to favoured platform – there was a definite air of smugness emanating from the corner where the Instagrammers had embedded themselves.

Ultimately, we drew no conclusions. We did not design the perfect platform for wellbeing. What we did do though was make real connections in the real world. We talked, shared, some swapped addresses or business cards –and we all took a sharp intake of breath when someone inadvertently said the word ‘Nutcase’. Oh, and we laughed – now that’s got to be good for your wellbeing.

What is clear though is that we could have continued all afternoon, people are genuinely interested in exploring the relationships between Social Media and Wellbeing. It is the beginning of a dialogue I hope to continue.

For Victoria’s view of the day check out her blog at digital mental health.

Keywords: ,Social Media and Wellbeing, Love Arts Leeds, Mental Health, Twitter