/ 22 November 2023

Cyber disorders: Spiraling effects of mental health and technology

Social Media Getty
Posting intimate details of our of our personal and professional online gives cybercriminals valuable information. (Avishek Das/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

The memories of sitting in my study and working on an issue brief I wrote for the Observer Research Foundation, a global independent think tank based in Delhi, India, Mental Health and Technology: A Case of Africa, “play rent-free in my head” like that one song I know word for word.

 What usually stands out for me is the feeling I get in that moment and how fulfilling it is to reminisce on the research process I went through while exploring the impact that technology has on our mental health. 

It was at that time I fully discovered the extent mental health stigma still takes precedence in our African societies, communities and diverse family homes. 

To some degree, cyber mental health challenges are a consequence of the constant feeding of information including personal information we human beings give the internet in its diverse platforms. 

Thereafter the consequences hit us hard and you end up feeling betrayed. For instance, just think of the posts you write, the content you share and retweets or reposts you do on a daily basis — it demonstrates how quickly information can travel from one online platform to the next. 

But how does this influence the mind? Well, let me tell you a true story.

On 21 October 2022, during cybersecurity awareness month, I hosted a mental health and cyberspace discussion at the American Corner in Maseru. As a researcher for a think tank in Washington DC, I explore topics in cyberpsychology, cyber mental health and cyber disorders. During one of the discussions, a participant shared her reasons behind creating a social media account.

A part of her life story was accompanied with spending time rejecting older men who would ask her out and as a result because of the consistency, this experience started playing games with her self-confidence resulting in her getting uncomfortable.

The many requests from men were due to her voluptuous figure and as an African, It has never been a secret that some African men are attracted to voluptuous ladies. However, for the lady herself, it was an uncomfortable experience because it gave birth to some of her insecurities such as (starting to question her body).

Fortunately for her, she found solace in social media because she interacted with her peers though it was short-lived. Realising that her followers no longer supported her posts, and the number of likes dropped, her self-confidence was again threatened and she deactivated her account.

Perhaps some readers can relate to her story, especially for those who create social media accounts to gain validation or fill up a void. Not that it’s a bad thing but I am a firm believer that too much of everything is not good. 

Was her choice objective or was it rage caused by expectations she had in the first place? A good number of us don’t really put much attention or weight to the impact social media has on our mental health or how we personally influence negativity on social media. 

I don’t think it’s a good idea to have any expectations towards people you follow or who are part of your network. One immediate example is the start and spread of rumours, the sharing of negative content and the contribution in sharing fake news. 

Usually, this kind of behaviour is prevalent in some groups that people create on social media platforms. This is why I believe social media regulations should be enforced. 

To further provoke the mind, in most of the talks, discussions and interviews I have been invited to or attended, I emphasise the role human behaviour plays In influencing cyber crime. For instance, I would want to assume that because there are different types of stalkers, there may be elements of a mental health challenge in each — such as obsession, control and insecurity. 

These challenges don’t come from nowhere and because social media has an anonymous nature and opportunity to create fake accounts. A person can easily drive pain on someone else. 

Consider human trafficking, for example. Always expressing your dissatisfaction in life, loneliness and many more can attract traffickers. Someone can easily slide into your inbox and marinate you with consoling words which may ultimately lead to a false job offering to help you pick up. 

The increase of mental health challenges in our homes, communities and workplaces calls for great attention to every leader in diverse positions such as government, religious institutions, traditional leaders, the private and education sector. 

Cyber mental health challenges alternatively called cyber disorders are usually escalated by the excessive exposure we put ourselves under on social media platforms. For example, when you start comparing yourself with people you see on social media platforms, when you are hit by the fear of missing out (FOMO), being obsessed with always scrolling and looking at different people and following their lives, all of these activities can get overwhelming and could result in you developing cyber disorders that would have been avoided. 

Rethabile Tsephe is a freelance content writer and researcher associated with the Global foundation for cyberstudies and research in Washington DC.