Why Can’t I Be Special? – Mental Health Journal Samantha, Age 19

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The more popular we become on social media, the more insecure we seem to be; such is the irony of the Internet age.  We are connected to more people but have fewer friends. We’re constantly connecting with people around the world but are more lonely than ever. 

We’re encouraged to share our achievements on social media but by comparison, we’re always achieving less than others.   

Mental Health Journal: Why Can’t I Be Special
Student: Samantha* (She/Her), Age 19

Samantha’s star rose early on in high school. With an intense interest in fashion from an early age, she started a blog at 14 commenting on celebrity fashion trends. That quickly turned into a YouTube channel where she amassed a very large following, even getting sponsorships and free gifts from various clothing brands. 

Her clout within her high school was impressive but it was her international reach that really stood out. A teen girl from a very small town in rural Canada becomes a sought-after social media influencer. 

“I had a gaggle of girls following me around the school every day, dressing like me, talking like me…it was a scene out of mean girls, although we weren’t mean to anyone.” Samantha went on to tell me that she felt like a movie star within her own world.

“I make more money from sponsorships than any of my friends do from their fast-food jobs and I get the latest clothes just sent to me. It’s amazing.” 

Fast forward three years and Samantha’s starting university a year late because she was hospitalized many times over the course of a year because of her depression, cutting, and suicidal ideations.

“It’s funny. The more popular I became, the more I needed to be popular. It was never enough and the pressure everyone put on me – and I put on myself – to do more, to gain more followers, to make more money, became too much.” 

“It wasn’t the amount of work necessarily, I enjoyed being busy. It was the loneliness of it. I was surrounded by fake friends, people who just wanted to be popular or get a piece of what I was earning.”

“Every month that passed, every month that I became more popular, I felt like I was less and less special. I became someone I didn’t recognize…and I began to doubt myself. 

And then I started getting more and more haters coming out after me, for no reason at all, and that just made me even more insecure.” 

Samatha went on to explain that at the height of her popularity, she became stressed out trying to maintain a certain level of success while managing school and family expectations. She wasn’t sleeping, wasn’t eating healthily, and had bouts of bulimia to keep herself looking the way she thought everyone expected her to look. 

But when the Internet trolls became too much, she fell into a deep depression, questioning everything about herself. “I went from being uber-confident to a shadow of myself. I questioned every decision I made and every thought I had.

Why wasn’t I special anymore?” 

TAKEAWAYS: 

The idea of influencer burnout is not new.

Christian Collins used to wake up at 5 am and work till 1 am the next day producing and editing content for his social media channels. Yet, after a few years, he had to quit everything – millions of followers, “more money than he could spend” but became “super depressed.”  He had the fame and money he wanted but it only served to further isolate him and make him more lonely. 

“Sha Crow” a popular TikTok recently shared personal insights about the depression he and other popular Internet creators are suffering, despite the public persona they portray. 

And while it may be easy to dismiss this as the whining of Millennials or Gen Z kids who don’t want to work hard, we can’t ignore the very real mental health concerns that have become all too common. And not just among the most celebrated creators but by anyone who spends too much time on social media. 

The tech industry has made billions off of these teens and young adults but there’s no self-imposed regulation or outside support to monitor the mental health of those they encourage and reward to make them those millions. 

Young people have little life experience to draw from and so when social media fame (perceived or otherwise) happens, they’re unable to manage the stress, the online negativity or the pressures. Yet, trying to stop them from jumping on this bandwagon is near impossible, short of locking away our kids until they’re in their 30s (I tried this, it doesn’t work). 

The wiser course of action is to provide them with the education they need when they’re starting such endeavours. Instead of pushing them to stop or ignoring what they’re doing altogether, give them the facts so they can be better prepared for what’s to come. 

In my work speaking to students across the country, I’ve learned that they respond better to education than lectures, conversation rather than criticism. 

If you’re a student, understand the pitfalls before you start such a project and plan ahead. Learn to pace yourself, be patient, take breaks, and plan to work with a therapist or similar to help you manage the inevitable negativity, stress, and isolation that will occur. 

YOU ARE NOT ALONE 

Samantha’s story is one of the hundreds of similar stories shared with me over the years. You’re not alone. 

If it’s an emergency and you or someone you know is planning on hurting themselves, please call 911.  If you’re struggling, you can find other resources here: Canada  | USA

*To protect the student, the names and locations listed in this story have been changed. 

 

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