Beth Bretherton

Beth Bretherton, an RSPH Young Health Champion from Wigan, talks about her experience of social media and mental health.

Diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome at the young age of 12, I’ve always battled some kind of stigma. Whether that’s the stigma surrounding Chronic Fatigue Syndrome or poor mental health due to isolation, I feel very passionately about sending out the right message and making sure people understand the facts.

In researching everything to do with the mental health booklet I made, You Can Help: A Small Guide To Helping Someone In Crisis, I focused on de-stigmatising mental health by highlighting positive ways you could support someone going through a hard time. I hope to spread the view that mental health can be improved with support and more focus on how to help, rather than feeling like it’s hopeless and doing nothing.

I became an RSPH Young Health Champion because it gave me the opportunity to do just that. Whether it was being able to support my friends or family in everyday conversations around health, or taking part in RSPH’s national campaigns, I felt like I actually had the confidence and ability to make a difference and help people to change their lives for the better. 

This change doesn’t always have to come through big gestures or drastic alterations to our daily lives. A lot of the time, it is about the small things like telling people when they have made you happy; really listening to someone when they have a problem; setting goals for each day that show the progress you are making, however slow or small it may seem at the time.

I think struggling to set goals is a problem a lot of young people suffer with and it’s something that is made harder by social media. Knowing how to identify our own goals and being able to work towards them is tough, when we live in a technological world that has us constantly comparing ourselves to others and sets a harsh standard in terms of beauty, money and power. Young people aren’t always equipped with shutting off their negative thoughts and technology can be quite harmful in this sense. 

Social media has many positive aspects – it can bring us closer together and give us a whole new world in which to express ourselves. But, on the other hand, it can be difficult when, after a tough day, you are scrolling through your newsfeed and you see other people who seem to be having a better time than you, surrounded by their friends. It is so easy to compare your day to theirs, feeling left out and full of negativity.

The thing you don’t always think about when you are doing this, is that it is very likely that the person in the photo you are comparing yourself to, probably does exactly the same thing. Social media is a highlight reel of our lives – us having a good time at parties, family birthdays, holidays, surrounded by loved ones. We are less likely to post about a tough day at work, or about feeling low or anxious – things that happen to us all from time to time.

As you scan through social media in one of these tougher moments, it becomes easy to question yourself as to why your life doesn’t match up what you are seeing on the screen. You spend so long in this artificial world, that the highlight reel can become reality. Your goals can seem so small and inconsequential when you are competing on such an unfair playing field. 

That is why I am supporting RSPH’s Scroll Free September campaign. Scroll Free is an opportunity to step back from social media, so that we can understand which parts work for us and which parts don’t. The options range from going Cold Turkey, completely giving up social media for the whole month, to being a Night Owl and not using social media after 6pm. 

I am looking forward to going Night Owl and being able to step out of the highlight reel for a while. I plan to use it to spend more time doing the things that I know make me feel better – actually speaking to my friends, spending more time with my family, working on my mental health campaign. 

When October comes, I hope that I’ll be able to pick out the best parts from both the real and the digital worlds. I’ll be able to use social media for the aspects that work for me, whilst being more aware of the world beyond my iPhone screen. I hope that rather than catching myself comparing my life to someone else’s, I’ll be more focused and confident in making a difference to my own life and the lives of those around me.