Stellah Mbabazi used to live for social media. The 23-year-old resident of Carama, Bujumbura, would spend a huge part of her time checking and or updating her status on facebook.
It was all good until she started receiving negative comments, often classified as cyberbullying based on gender, race or religion.
“Sometimes, I would get into arguments with people I had never met that I could barely sleep or eat. In the end, I became depressed that I stopped posting or commenting on anything on social media,” she says, adding that it got even worse when she posted something and received no comment.
“Sometimes I would see mutual friends commenting on other people’s posts and not mine and I would feel like pulling out my hair,” she says.
Katusabe, like many other young Ugandans is suffering from social media addiction, a behavioural addiction that has been found to negatively impact the mental health of phone users.
According to addictioncentre.com, “Social media addiction is characterised as being overly concerned about social media, driven but uncontrollable urged to log on to or use social media.”
One also tends to devote so much time and effort to social media that it impairs other important life areas.
This addiction is caused by dopamine, a feel-good chemical produced in the brain when one is happy, in this case upon seeing many likes of a post or picture uploaded.
“When it’s not liked, the horrible feeling will be overwhelming,” Dr Benedict Akimana, a psychiatrist at Butabika Hospital says.
More than 200 million people worldwide are estimated to suffer from addiction to social media and the Internet, according to research by mediakix.com, an influencer marketing agency, carried out last year.
The social media addiction research reveals that some 210 million people worldwide suffer from some form of Internet and social media addiction. Studies further suggest that the situation will only get worse.
The Ugandan story is not any different , with Akimana saying although the numbers are still scanty, the negative impact of phone usage, especially social media, on people’s mental health is alarming and definitely worth talking about.
Dr Akimana says that beliefs and life choices which have stemmed from all of this increase in use of the phones and social media have been very fatal to the point of growth in the numbers of suicide cases over time, depression, anxiety and adjustment disorder among all age groups.
The impact is major and should be discussed and addressed, a DR Moses Ssemakula.
“There is lack of an awareness of how important it is to seek for help even when a problem is sighted due to a number of misconceptions about mental health in our country,”Dr Ssemakula, the executive director, Mental Health Focus Uganda says.
But Andrew Deo Ongurapus, a Mental Health Advocate and co.founder – Free-Mind Therapy says before the Covid-19 pandemic, an average of 48 victims monthly with psychological disorders, specifically depression and anxiety disorders mostly arising due Digital media related abuse visited his office monthly.
“This numbers, specifically from Kampala are for those who feel confident speaking out their issues. We believe there are many victims out there who suffer in silence,” he said.
Body dysmorphic disorder
But negative comments are not the only downside of social media and phone usage, which has stands at about 28.01 million mobile connections in Uganda in January 2021 an equivalent to 60.3 per cent of the total population, according to DataReportal Digital2021 report.
Social media has been blamed for the increased rates of body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), or body dysmorphia, a health condition where a person spends a lot of time worrying about flaws in their appearance.
Sufferers of this condition, mostly teenagers and young adults tend to take to the hundreds of phone applications that change the appearance of a person on social media to look the part.
On the other hand, some women struggle with an inferiority complex due to social media.
This means they constantly experience feelings of inadequacy and might end up comparing themselves to others or develop defence mechanisms to help cope with these troubling thoughts.
“Some will struggle to hold the most expensive phone or even complain about the number of their followers,” Dr Akimana says.
As has been the norm these past few months, many families have a lot of adjusting to do. For example students are expected to study online as their parents deal with issues ranging from the high data rates, job loss to trying to cope with the loss of their loved ones who succumbed to Covid-19.
Worse still, some have not been able to physically bury their loved ones, doing it virtually on social media.
This alone leads to depression, anxiety and many times suicide thoughts, Dr Akimana says.
“The loss of a loved one is life’s most stressful event and can cause a major emotional crisis. After the death of someone you love, you experience bereavement, which means to be deprived by death.’ How this process is handled matters a lot,” Dr Akimana says.
Fighting the urge
Singer Angella Katatumba says for one to navigate the murky waters of social media depression, they have to grow a thick skin.
“Having had his own share of the bullying and all that comes with being in the limelight, my father, the late Bonny Katatumba prepared us to develop a thick skin towards public reaction,” says the business woman with 9.88k subscribers on her YouTube channel and about 553K followers on Facebook.
Angella recalls the day she appeared on the front page of a local tabloid upon her return from the United States of America in 2015.
She angrily stormed her father’s office but she instead received the mental preparation talk she says is the reason she is still standing in spite of all the social media attacks.
“He told me to see the attention, negative or positive as a blessing because among many, some even more famous, more deserving and more important, you are the one picked on,” she says.
“Very many are not prepared that is why you will see people take to social media to quarrel and fight back. Some even withdraw and many commit suicide because they cannot handle the pressure. People will say words like ‘Angella you are ugly’ ‘you are using your father’s money’ and to it all, I keep smiling and minding my own business.”
To Dr Akimana, it is very possible to reduce on the usage of phones by being intentional about understanding the mental health impacts of social media and the phone itself.
“Most of what social media displays out there is really pretentious or scripted lives and can easily mislead one to think it is only his or her life that is horrible. The thought pattern is going to be ‘I am the worst, I am defeated’, for some even suicide tendencies shall start. Then isolation shall be the normal course of action for this kind of person,” says Dr Akimana.
Dr Moses says most additions do not have medicines however psychosocial support is usually the main remedy where there is guidance on a step by step overcoming plan for oneself.
One has to train themselves to cognitively overcome the dopine chemical effects produced from the social media pleasure and also we need to know to ask for help especially medical help.
The society plays a big role too in teaching or giving information about the dangers that may stem from over usage or abuse of phones and social media so that the user can manage themselves.
Because for social media even five minutes are enough to cause a lasting damage now if someone is controlled it won’t matter but if they control themselves at that point they shall have power of what they taken in or what they don’t.