Molly Russell, a 14-year-old girl committed suicide in 2017. Her father accused Instagram and other social media websites for killing his daughter; these websites where she saw graphic images of self-harm. After escalating pressures Instagram has announced its decision of removing such images. Today, 1 in 4 people suffer from mental health issues. As a subject which continues to remain under-resourced and neglected in the Asian Community, is Instagram's latest ban enough to finally start that conversation around mental health?
“I think about social media and it's impact a lot because I have two young sisters and I am 23 myself. I sympathise with those people who feel the pressures of social media because I am one of them too,” said Neelam Gill to the Asian Voice.
Neelam Gill clicks some button in the head. Some may recognise her as the first British-Asian face of L’Oréal UK, others may recall her story on colour and her journey into modelling industry and some yet, raving about the 150k followers she has on Instagram and 25k Twitter vigilantes. But while most would imagine Gill's life is as glamourous as the evening gown she is wearing to the next happening event, the teenager says it is contradictory.
“We're all human beings and we all have insecurities and I think social media heightens it. But I think what needs to be done is that more people in positions of power need to speak up and let them know that Instagram is just a highlight reel.
And that is why I try to be very authentic to my followers. I let them know when I am having a great day or when I am really down when I'm alone at home and feeling extremely low,” she continued.
Body shaming, cosmetic surgery, brown skin and lighter filters, number of followers and the greater number of likes on the pictures posted have slowly penetrated our lifestyle, often dictating how we spend our #SundayFunday. But Gill provides a non-judgmental ear to the choices that people make in their life with the belief that “Whatever makes someone happy so long as they are not hurting someone else is fine and is the choice that an individual is entitled to”. But body shaming is not something that the actress stands for.
“It is something that I deal with being in the public eye. And it is easy for people to sit behind the computer screen and say whatever they want but that can have very damaging consequences.
I don't really respond to Instagram comments and negativity but every once in a while, I try to educate someone by saying that it is not okay to bully someone whether it is behind a screen or in person. There is no excuse for that,” she concluded.
But Neelam Gill is just one of the many in public eye who confront the demons of mental health. Jasmin Kaur Sehra, most famous for her portrait on Mala Sen at Brick Lane commissioned by the Mayor of London, is a British Asian artist who actively campaigns for mental health.
Take your broken heart and turn it into art
“I openly speak about my mental health experiences, and although I’ve spoken about it before, I feel like it’s something we have to constantly speak about- no matter how big or small,” she said.
If one visits Kaur's website then one will immediately understand that a lot of her work is based around identity, empowerment, self-love, and, positivity. Hailing from a creative family background, Kaur achieved her degree in graphic design and illustration at the University of Arts London. She pursued her passion of painting regardless of the various phases of mental health and depression that she went through. But the artist started journaling her difficult days, that encouraged her to start talking openly about her issues with her close ones and to begin therapy.
“It was the stress of having the thought that you need to conform to what and how the society expects you to be which makes you second guess yourself.
I always felt like that outcast especially because I was that brown girl pursuing arts whilst my South Asian friends were pursuing something else. This definitely was a major part affecting my mental health,” she said.
But accompanied with the isolation in her career is also her story of colourism where Kaur talks about self-esteem issues that played an equal hand in her deteriorating mental health.
“There were comments made on me about how dark I was and how should I wear certain colours like 'red' or 'yellow'. But times are now changing and we are moving away from those mindsets,” she said.
Kaur continues to write a blog, through which she speaks about all these issues that is accompanied by her art work. Since leaving therapy again recently she says- “I can honestly say my life has changed for the better though it still gets difficult at times, but I try find ways to protect myself and my sanity.
I write this to encourage anyone who might be going through this to not isolate yourself,, don't feel ashamed, most importantly communicate,” the Paradise Girl concludes.
Her Instagram profile has beyond 6000 followers, a platform that she uses for urging people to come and join her mental health campaigns. Recently the artist collaborated with Hannah Hill at Tate Modern where she organised the therapeutic art session 'Late at Tate Britain: Don't Worry'.
Digital diaries to cure?
While Instagram is constantly criticised for creating social pressures among youngsters, there are also organisations that are using the platform to breakdown stereotypes and urge people to finally start having that conversation.
Under-18s are increasingly turning to apps, online counselling and “mood diaries” to help them recover from conditions that have left them feeling low, isolated and, in some cases, suicidal. They are able to receive fast, personal care and advice using their phone rather than having to wait up to 18 months to be treated by an NHS mental health professional.
Sam Ali, is the CEO of the SWITCH Youth and Community Organisation who posted a video on his Instagram account where he talked about his own experiences and how help can be extended to a friend by simply talking to them.
SWITCH is Youth and Community Organisation which works with young people aged 8-21 years old in sports, arts, music, dance, drama also offering services in education and development programmes.