Instagram, JED start mental health initiative

Social media influencers (second-from-left to right) “Teen Wolf” actor Tyler Posey, former USC volleyball player and mental health activist Victoria Garrick and Instagrammer Iffah Karim talked about their experiences with the app. 
(Julia Mazzucco | Daily Trojan)

Leaders from Instagram and the Jed Foundation spoke  Wednesday about promoting healthy habits on social media for students through a mental health toolkit the two organizations created. 

The “Pressure to be Perfect” event promoted the 35-page booklet, which instructs students on mindful social media practices and cautions the negative impacts of excessive screen time. The toolkit includes tips on how to meaningfully use Instagram and three quizzes to assess one’s personal social media use. 

Instagram chose USC as the site to launch the toolkit to improve mental health resources for students.

“We were looking at social comparison and pressure and image, and what better place than to be in the heart of Los Angeles, of a place where that is really prevalent?”  said Carolyn Merrell, Instagram’s public policy manager. 

Media influencer Carri Twigg moderated the two panel discussions on the importance of healthy Instagram habits. The first panel featured Merrell, Cornell University researcher Janis Whitlock and JED’s chief medical doctor Victor Schwartz. 

Merrell said Instagram heard concerns from young people about how the platform affected their self image and decided to pursue a mental health initiative.

“On Instagram we see incredible things, we see people connecting with things that they love … but what we also see is that it can be a very complicated place,” Merrell said. 

Whitlock discussed her research on social media practices, which was used to help develop the toolkit. She connected with thousands of Instagram users from different countries to understand the typical experience on the platform and how it impacts their mental health. 

“The people who have figured out how to use it in the best way have figured out how to slot Instagram and other social media into the landscape of their life already,” Whitlock said. “It’s not something that they built their life around.” 

Schwartz emphasized that Instagram can help people connect around the globe, but also cautioned against using the platform as a way to create a disingenuous image. He said that the toolkit helps to solidify that message. 

The second panel featured social media influencers, including “Teen Wolf” actor Tyler Posey, former USC volleyball player and mental health advocate Victoria Garrick and Instagrammer Iffah Karim. The panelists described their personal journeys with Instagram and how to use the platform in a mindful way. 

Posey said he tries to portray himself realistically on Instagram to promote an authentic image to his nearly 6 million Instagram followers.

“I love that I have a following, that people listen to me … but I realize that I’m a role model whether I like it or not,” Posey said. 

Garrick said during her time at USC, she felt that she needed to cultivate a specific image on Instagram to get more likes and comments. She began Photoshopping herself to reflect common beauty standards, which led her to experience anxiety and body image issues.  

“I wasn’t accepting the fact that I was stressed, and I wasn’t feeling great and I wasn’t happy … I just kept trying to bury it with perfect pictures,” Garrick said. 

Daily Trojan associate managing editor Natalie Bettendorf spoke at the event.