On the fourth episode of the Julius Profiles podcast, we spoke to Dr. Ayelet Boussi and Lina Renzina about social media and mental health. Dr. Boussi is a clinical psychologist who works at Cognitive Therapy for Women’s Psychological Services, and Lina Renzina is the Head of Talent Management & Entertainment Partnerships at The Ad Council. Both Dr. Boussi and Lina shared their unique perspectives on how social media can affect mental health in positive and negative ways, and how influencers can make a difference on digital platforms.

Takeaways from this episode include:

  • The changing nature of influence
  • How influencers can champion mental health and social causes
  • The mental health case for being authentic on social media

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The changing nature of influence

Social media has had an undeniable and indelible effect on society as we know it. It’s revolutionized the way we connect with one another, reducing the effort it takes to stay in touch to just a few clicks and taps. But with the ease of connection comes a glut of information that can potentially have negative effects on the mental health of social media users.

In the early days of social media, when Facebook was confined to college campuses and MySpace was still relevant, people were just excited to connect and share their lives. Today, social media has transformed into a highly curated feed of influencers and followers sharing what they think will get the most attention.

As Lina pointed out, “In the last few years, I think we can all agree that the influencer space has changed dramatically... these people are building their own companies and brands are making so much money off of this – they’re really kind of becoming celebrities.”

Both Dr. Boussi and Lina agree that the curation and oversaturation of social content can be harmful to people’s mental health, even the influencers. “I’m sure they feel pressured to make sure their content is up to par so that they’re getting the likes and engagements to upkeep their brand,” said Lina.

Dr. Boussi, when asked about whether social media mirrors the real world, astutely pointed out,

“Our existence in social media and the social world is an amplified analog of real life. It’s just a bigger version of something that actually existed already. We’re the same social beings that we’ve ever been.”

And those social beings are always referencing one another for guidance on behavior.

Influencers have the power to change the face of social media

Though the nature of influence may have changed on the whole, social media is not a pit of despair for people fudging the truth about their lives. In fact, as Lina pointed out, influencers are at the center of many campaigns to bring awareness to mental health issues, especially ones derived from social media use.

“I think a lot of people sharing their stories and being transparent are taking stigma away from mental health, like the struggle with anxiety and depression,” said Lina. Lina’s work at The Ad Council involves a variety of non-profit campaigns on social media, which leverage influencers to communicate targeted messages for good social causes. She talked about a few of the campaigns she’s worked on, like Seize the Awkward, which sought to bring awareness to the often awkward discomfort that comes with speaking up about mental health.

Dr. Boussi also spoke about the good that influencers can do for mental health, citing how the communities that form around them can act as digital support groups. “It gives you access to people who are going through similar things and you get this incredible resource of support.”

Lina went further, discussing the good that social media can do for communities that converge on a topic, person, or type of content. Even in her own personal life, seeing online communities that she identified with helped her feel welcomed, supported, and inspired.

It’s no secret that social media users, influencers included, have a tendency to curate what they post to present the best image of themselves. Sometimes, seeing smiling happy people all the time can make those who are struggling feel alienated. For many of Dr. Boussi’s patients who struggle with their self-image, she recommends curating their social feeds instead, cutting out negativity, like they would a toxic person or relationship.

Lina suggests that influencers should curate the brands they work with. “If you’re a smart creator... you should only be taking brands’ deals that are strategic to your own brand that you really care about. That’s how they maintain the trust with their audience.”

Authenticity isn’t just good for brands

Finding influencers who strategically align with a brand or message is how Lina employs maximizes the effectiveness of her campaigns. “We’re already engaging talent who care about the brand and are like organically talking and posting about it but we’re just integrating our social good message into their content.”

Given the nature of The Ad Council’s clients, Lina often has to educate creators how to speak about sensitive topics. Of course, sensitive topics often come up in Dr. Boussi’s sessions with her clients. As she describes it, social media taps into ancient human instincts to look outside ourselves for guidance. That’s in part what helps propel viral trends so far, but also what amplifies negative feelings someone might already harbor.

“We are always social referencing, we are always looking outside of ourselves for guidance because that is how you survive in the world. And survival is not our concern now... you could call it social survival, but it ends up manifesting in this different way. Like the ancient part of our brain that is telling us you need to be in the know if you want to survive."

Being inauthentic doesn’t just impact the way followers perceive influencers. It can be downright exhausting. Lina pointed out that influencers are starting to accept that it’s necessary to take a break sometimes, to drop the curtain and reveal some of the negative, vulnerable things about themselves.

Dr. Boussi replied in kind: “It is tricky when your identity is wrapped up in what you are doing for a job... Am I owned by my audience? Do I no longer have the sense of ownership over myself and my story or where I’m going? Am I owned by the brands that are sponsoring me?”

Strip away the followers and the high profile brand deals, and influencers are people, with the same complexities and dynamism as the rest of us. Just like we need breaks from social media sometimes, so do they. As the industry evolves, influencers are learning that they have the ability to make a positive change in the world around them through their content. Marketers like Lina and her colleagues at The Ad Council are leading the charge in making those waves. And people like Dr. Boussi are there to give people professional support offline when they need it.

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The Julius Profiles podcast features guests with a variety of touchpoints within the industry, whether they work at non-profits like Lina, are doctors like Ayelet Boussi, or are marketing at a major brand or agency. Don’t miss an episode – subscribe on your favorite podcasting platform below!

Subscribe to the Julius Profiles Podcast:

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