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Why Teen Selfies Have the Power to Change How We View Mental Health

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There’s a lot of buzz around teens sharing selfies, especially in the context of how it’s affecting or reflecting our mental health. Some people think posting selfies has a negative effect. Others link selfies and narcissism. But we believe selfies have the potential to change how we see and talk about mental health.

This holds especially true when you’re struggling with depression or anxiety. Your photos can be a way to express what can’t be put into words. Visual (nonverbal) communication allows us the ability to bring the intense and often confusing thoughts, feelings and experiences of depression and anxiety outside of ourselves, so we can see them from a third-person perspective.

Perspective is everything with photography and mental health. It’s important we have the proper perspective on what’s happening for youth right now.

Teens today are dealing with unbelievable amounts of anxiety as they have to navigate the instant and always-on social network era. At a time where you’re the most confused and susceptible to these mental health issues, you now have to worry about managing two personas — online and offline — 24/7, which can lead to more depression, anxiety, body image issues, and a range of other struggles.

Google searches for “anxiety” are on the rise because it’s hard enough (sometimes too hard) to talk about mental health, so I think it’s important for us to not discourage people from tapping into the healing and expressive power of photos.

In fact, we need to strongly encourage it.

If taking selfies is a way to start or work through the process (and it is), let it be!

Photography provides a safe way for us to start to speak out. The power of these images is often underneath the surface, leaving us unable to truly understand what the photo means to the creator without them letting us know. That’s why photos enable so many people to start the conversation of what they’re struggling with, without having to be specific or overly vulnerable on those first steps.

It’s not our place to lay judgments or assumptions without first knowing.

Perhaps it is narcissism for some, or one photo may simply be a silent request for validation, but there may be something even deeper going on — and a simple like or comment can go a long way when anxiety is high or depression has us sinking low.

We also need to ensure we obtain the proper perspective and information around who the millennials really are (approx. 1982 – 1996), including the latest round of teens taking over: Gen Z (approx. anyone born between 1996 – 2009). Both groups are demanding social responsibility from businesses with more than 90 percent willing to switch brands for a cause and 62 percent willing to make less money to work for a responsible organization.

I don’t believe we’re dealing with the one of the most narcissistic generations but one of the most caring and empathetic — as Gen Z continues the momentum.

It’s important to not be caught up in the buzz and misinformation on display for dollars rather than impact. Like these two generations, we need to be aware of the intention behind what we’re creating and consuming.

There is a movement happening that is shifting how we communicate in a huge way. You can see it every day. Visuals are taking over, and we are creating, sharing and consuming more photos and videos every year — this year it’s expected to be 2.5 trillion photos alone.

Now imagine if the teens who are driving this shift and dealing with the highest levels we’ve seen in depression and anxiety were able to use that for good. What if they could tap into the billions to uncover powerful insights or find healing?

They can.

It’s already happening.

But we are hindering their progress.

It’s our responsibility to encourage open expression and growth.

You have a choice to help empower the next generation to take control of their mental health, while changing how we see and talk about it.

Or you can contribute to the shame and stigma around exploring the self, sharing who we are and expressing what’s beneath the surface. What do you choose?

P.S. If you want a safe and private space to share your selfies, you can sign up for free to The One Project’s platform.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo by Maria Teijeiro

Originally published: December 28, 2016
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