How online violence is shaping our livesIt is important that we use gender-informed approaches to better deal with online abuse, which has become more common than ever.
With the unprecedented growth of internet technology, there is no denying that the spread of digitalisation has impacted all corners of our lives. We are glued to our screens every waking moment.
While the internet has had many positive impacts on our lives, there are negative sides to it as well. One of them is online violence. Casual trolling, cyberbullying, and hate speech are a daily recurrence in this day and age. As a result, people's mental health has been adversely affected.
There exists an unquestionable correlation between gender-based online violence and people's mental health. Therefore, we must use gender-informed approaches to resolve online violence towards genderqueer individuals and support them.
There is an obvious and long-existing link between violence and mental health issues among women, but it's also essential that we acknowledge social groups of men and members of the LGBTQIA+ community may experience similar gender-based violence online. The guise of a screen makes criticising people easier and negates having to spend time understanding them.
However, those who criticise are often unaware of the struggles and mental battles that follow being a witness or victim of online bullying.
Acts of online violence can cause harmful impact on the survivors' mental health, including, but not limited to, anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), sleep disorders, suicidal tendencies, self-harm, body image issues, eating disorders, and numerous other mental health concerns. Many even resort to substance abuse to cope with these mental health issues.
Unfortunately, the stigma around online GBV (gender-based violence) and mental health in our society has made it very difficult for those who have experienced online violence to share, report, and seek support, even when they desperately need help. Many people choose to keep their experiences to themselves out of concern that their family, friends, and close ones won't believe them. Many are worried about the backlash they or their loved ones may face from others. Some who have been at the receiving end of online GBV do not share their stories because they fear being held responsible for what transpired.
The end result is that victims suppress what needs to be said, leading to them repressing traumatic emotions, which raises even more mental health issues.
Mental health concerns also result from people's need to use social media excessively. The more time we spend online, the more we are likely to witness/experience various sorts of online violence. In most cases, we become bystanders who witness such acts but choose not to do anything against them.
Occasionally, such bystanders feel remorse for not doing anything to stop or prevent online violence, and this also impacts their mental well-being.
It is paramount that we understand that we are aware of various healthy coping mechanisms to better tend to our mental health issues.
On an individual level, empathy and compassion can play an integral part in preventing online violence. As human beings, we don't want our loved ones to experience online violence and have their mental well-being adversely impacted. If we can have the same degree of empathy for others, we will be wary of causing harm to others. It's very important that we be mindful of our actions online and how they can harm others.
When people who have experienced online violence share their feelings with you, what you can do is not be judgemental and offer an empathetic ear, inquire about their needs, validate what they say, create safe spaces, and offer the help they need it. Doing so will reduce and remove the feeling of isolation they might experience due to online GBV.
Figuring out how to handle the psychological concern better might be significantly aided by speaking to a trustworthy person. Sharing your struggles with others can help lessen the mental burden. If you don't feel comfortable confiding within your social circle, consulting a mental health expert is also a viable option.
Similarly, another important strategy to protect your peace is by knowing when to take a break from social media or stop using it altogether—continuing to use social media even when it harms you isn't doing your mental health any favours. We need to keep in mind that there is a world beyond social media. There are always other things you could be doing. Life has more to offer than what you'll find on the digital landscape. Spend your time on activities that actually make you happy, and discover new interests to achieve balance in your life.
However, if needed, mental health interventions such as counselling and therapeutic or rehabilitative services for survivors and those affected should be considered to improve our mental well-being.
Moktan is a psychosocial counsellor who specialises in psychosocial counselling. She works at Happy Minds, a mental health and well-being platform.