New Instagram Feature Lets You Anonymously Help Friends in Need

College students are all about expressing themselves. Whether it be verbal, nonverbal, or in 140 characters or less, we are constantly sending messages into the world. The action never changes, but the way we interact does. Today, people are sending the same messages, but through social media. In Social Media Today, Dr. Paul Booth, a professor of media and cinema studies at DePaul University, says that the development of social media has created a more interactive society. Although more efficient, this digitized interaction ends up watering down the quality of what we’re actually saying. We are openly tweeting, snapchatting, and posting but Booth says “we may not necessarily be building relationships as strongly.”

These relationships are vital when someone is communicating negative, self-harming messages. Instagram recently launched a tool for suicide, self-harm, and eating disorder prevention. Users can anonymously report posts of at-risk friends, family, or strangers. The app sends the reported individual a notification that says: “Can we help? Someone saw one of your posts and thinks you might be going through a difficult time. If you need support, we’d like to help.” The tool offers individuals the option to contact a friend, helpline, or receive supportive advice.

Instagram’s preventative tool could help create a safer and healthier environment online, especially for women in college. Women struggling with mental health are more likely to reach out to social media with their issues than a loved one or trusted professional. In other words, you’re more likely to see a worrying snap of your friend on Instagram than hear it straight from her in person. Confronting a friend in person about their self-harming behavior could result in little progress or a hostile response if they feel embarrassed about their situation, but the online feature allows for a barrier of privacy for both parties. Pew Research Center says Instagram is used by 28% of Internet users. Thirty-one percent are women and 26% of total users are in college. Women are constantly updating their followers with pictures, which makes it easier to stay on top of the messages people are communicating and quickly address concerning content in a less confrontational way.

We all know how stressful college can be. Women especially are faced with overwhelming feelings of anxiety, self-doubt, and pressure to conform to social or beauty standards. Mental health is a sensitive topic and shames a lot of women into silence. Asking for help isn’t always as easy as contacting the campus counseling center, so it’s important to pay attention—and respond—to the possible cries for help in the Instagram post of your roommate, sorority sister, or the girl (or guy!) who sits across from you in chemistry.

If you or someone you know is struggling, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). It’s OK to not be OK.


by Abby Welles