It is no secret that social media use has links to increased anxiety, depression and sleep issues, for example. There is no doubt that the platforms can do more to support the mental health and wellbeing of young people that have their lives dominated by social media.

Suzanne Samaka, a young people’s mental health campaigner, is calling on the government to protect young people from issues related to body image with her #HonestyAboutEditing campaign, by asking them to pass a law that will require social media platforms to label content that has been edited or filtered.

We spoke to Suzanne to find out a bit more about this, here’s what she had to say…

Please be aware that the following content contains references to eating disorders, suicide and other issues that some people may find upsetting.

Woman looking at body in mirror
Q: To kick us off then, could you tell me a bit about the campaign and what you’re trying to achieve?

“I’ve started a campaign called honesty about editing. And what that is asking for is to amend the laws to label content online that’s been digitally edited, such as Photoshop filters and that sort of thing.

When I began this campaign, I must admit, I didn’t even know if it was possible. But since starting the campaign, I have found out that this is already the law in France, Israel, and very recently, Norway. And France, in particular, their health minister cited that the reason for putting this in place was the negative impacts on body-related behaviour.”

“So my question is, if there’s a blueprint for it and it’s happening in other countries, then why isn’t it happening here?”

Q: What sort of things do you mean by the negative impacts on body-related behaviour?

“Social media, by default, drives comparison.”

“And there’s a lot of research and evidence that’s recently been submitted to the health and social care committee. They’ve been looking at this very closely, in terms of the physical and mental health issues, that this is not necessarily creating, but is exacerbating. Such as eating disorders, anxiety, depression, suicide, to name but a few. And then, although it’s not a mental health condition, as such, loneliness is a big part of this as well. All of those things can create real isolation.

By creating a level of transparency, it stops people comparing themselves to an idealised image. And often something that’s not obtainable.”

Q: It really does impact people, doesn’t it?

“Yeah, absolutely. I mean, the campaign is focused on young people, but the reality is, it doesn’t discriminate. It is the case for adults, men, women, girls, boys, people of multiple ethnicities. No one is immune to this.

I think, quite often we’re assuming these issues are a teenage girl’s problem. And actually, the numbers for suicide and the growth rate of eating problems and eating disorders in males, is huge. And because of that, there’s limited research because it is geared towards females in this area, and therefore it creates more stigma. So absolutely, it does affect everybody.”

Q: Have you had any objections to the campaign?

“Funnily enough, every single person I’ve spoken to about this, without exception, has either thought is the law already or that it should be.

Maybe there’s a number of people who just haven’t told me what they think. And I’m very, very open to challenge and absolutely not against social media. I think it can be hugely powerful in the right way. I’m also not against editing, I’m not against filters. It’s not for me to tell people what they should do with their content or what they do with their body, that’s completely up to them.

What I’ve got a real issue with is the lack of transparency. And that lack of transparency is then telling people, predominantly younger people who spend a lot more time on these platforms, that they should wake up and look like that. Or they should be as muscly as that or that they should be as thin as that. And that’s what worries me, because actually, if these people think that that is achievable, or achieved with XYZ, as we see with marketing often, then I’ve got an issue with that. And I think that transparency is what’s important.”

Yellow teeth edited to look white
Q: You’re obviously very passionate about this, as we all perhaps could be, is there a point where it all stemmed from?

“Yeah, there is. I mean, sadly, five years ago, a close member of my family was diagnosed with anorexia. And it was the first time I’d been anywhere near eating disorders or exposed to body image problems or even mental health problems to that degree. And it’s fair to say that I was completely ignorant to all of it, and not in a nasty way, not even from a conscious perspective.

My family member spent three periods of time in inpatient eating disorder units, and obviously, we went there to visit them and so on. What absolutely blew my mind is how full these places were with adolescent boys and girls. It was an under 18s unit so obviously they were all under 18 but it was just full to bursting. And as soon as one person left, there was somebody else that would take their space immediately. So whilst my family member was my first-hand experience, I just couldn’t sit back and do nothing.

One evening, I sat there and thought, I’ve got to try and do something. I can’t just go, ‘oh, this is awful’ and then get on with my life, I’ve got to try and do something to positively impact this.”

Q: So edited images on social media can really contribute to these sorts of issues?

“Absolutely. And I think also, like I said earlier, they don’t necessarily cause these issues. But these issues, then create isolation and create loneliness.

In this day and age, a lot of young people will turn to their phone, and their phone has got a world of information and content on there. And I think seeing a lot of this content just compounds that belief that they may be suffering from at the moment.”

Q: If this law was to come into place tomorrow, what would we start seeing, do you think?

“I think it would enable people to take the pressure off a little bit and just know that they can say ‘I don’t look like that, and that’s okay’. Because real people in the real world might not look like that. And it’s not sustainable. Even if they do, they’re probably not eating enough or overexercising or whatever it may be.

So I think it just brings people back to a level of being able to take the pressure off in a world that is extremely pressurized in many areas.”

Q: In order to get to those benefits, what do we need to do? What can we do, as followers and supporters, to help?

“If anybody reading can sign the honesty about editing campaign, you can find that on all social media platforms, just type in #HonestyAboutEditing in anything and you’ll find it quite quickly. The campaign is attached to all the links in my bio.

The more signatures we can get more when we get to take this to Parliament and say ‘this needs to be in place’.”

To jump on board with Suzanne’s campaign to protect the mental health of our future generations, you can sign the petition by clicking here.

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