With social media playing a major role in our day-to-day lives and the number of men engaging with questions of self-esteem, Dylan O’Neill investigates how social media affects self-esteem.

The My World Survey was carried out over the course of five years from 2008-2012, to study youth mental health. The team of researchers, led by Dr. Barbara Dooley who is a Senior Lecturer in the UCD School of Psychology, surveyed students in second-level, third-level and FAS education courses from the ages of 12-25 to establish a national “baseline” on youth mental health. Speaking the to University Observer, Dr Cliodhna O’Connor, of the Youth Mental Health Lab said “the data that we captured there was representative of the national distribution, so we can stand over it and say ‘from that we knew that males had significantly higher self-esteem than females.’”

 

Studying issues such as self-esteem and self identity in men has always been a tricky feat. In a survey conducted by the University Observer on the role social media has on self-esteem, only 33% of the respondents identified as male. O’Connor believes that this could be down to the fact that it was “a self report measure. Males typically either don’t recognise it in themselves to be able to articulate it, in comparison to females. There could have been a response bias, whereby they could have responded in a way that they want to be perceived.” This is a recurring problem for researchers in the field of psychological study.

 

Inaccurate media reporting surrounding self-esteem in scientific research is another issue that contributes to the problem of poor engagement by men. There seems to be a disconnect between what the researchers publish in academic journals and what the general public understand about the field of study. “For example, there is a researcher here in UCD and her research was following scientific studies and how they’re portrayed in the media, and the way things can just form a life of their own is just incomprehensible.”

“According to the survey, on average, men tend to view a range of content equally from news to personal interest or hobbies to networking sites. Surprisingly, although 77% of men have a hobby that involves physical activity, only 34.6% said they viewed sport content online. “

With more advancements in technology and the ever-increasing capability to remain in touch with the world around you, our survey found that 46% of male respondents spend between 4-11+ hours online. According to the survey, on average, men tend to view equally a range of content, from news to personal interest or hobbies to networking sites. Surprisingly, although 77% of men have a hobby that involves physical activity, only 34.6% said they viewed sport content online.

 

Dr O’Connor suggested that this is because of the constant connectivity between everyone in the world. Based off a study that looked at self-esteem in males who viewed neutral photos against men who view images of “physical attractiveness”, O’Connor came to the conclusion that “it is important to note, that we follow and we engage with media that confirm our beliefs or that we aspire to. For example, if you want to go on a diet, you are more likely to follow things like The Body Coach and people who will inspire you, and those are the people who are absolutely ripped.” However, Dr O’Connor emphasises that “even those findings are mixed.”

 

As most studies remain inconclusive on the correlation between social media content and self-esteem in men, you have to ask yourself why are networking sites so appealing to many? A popular theory is that “having low self-esteem is what drives you to follow all these people and then how can we say that looking at all these photos causes low self-esteem when low self-esteem could have gotten you there in the first place.”

 

“In saying that, there are so many support forums online, you can follow loads of people similar to you that are trying to get over things. Then there is a sense of community. People follow you if you follow back.”

 

However there have been some notable studies, such as the My World Survey, that provide hope for the future, as more males are moving away from the still-prevalent gender stereotypes of tight-lipped macho men. In the literature, men have been seen not to “even recognise when the problem is big enough to do something about it. Then there is [the fact] that males don’t necessarily want to be seen in a certain way, for example, seen as weak.” O’Connor points out that, in more recent years, “I came across research on eating disorders and it said that in England, last year, there was an increase of 40% in the number of males seeking help for eating disorders.” She further discussed the findings from the study, saying, “I think coupled with that is the idea that men are seeking help for things more and more. It also comes back to sometimes, men who are experiencing low self-esteem, low levels of mood, don’t necessarily present in the way we would assume they do. Depression might manifest itself in a behaviour that is aggressive.”

 

Surveys are only a small part of tackling the problem. “Mental health literacy is key.” Being able to recognise the signs of when you are experiencing a low mood or high levels of anxiety, “what that looks like and what that looks like to you personally.” On a more broad community scale, integration is a pivotal aspect of promoting youth mental health. In this respect, O’Connor believes that Ireland can improve on this, especially on school structure. “There are so many boys schools and girls schools. Because we are moving towards a non-binary society, I feel like we should make more of an effort to integrate people, because if we are looking at people collectively, they can identify whatever way they want and they’ll be accepted.”

‘Everything is related. Our self-esteem is related to our mood. It’s related to how much you sleep at night… research suggests that just getting outside and experiencing nature will increase your mood’

There are no new answers or helpful hints as to how you might improve your self esteem. “Everything is related. Our self-esteem is related to our mood. It’s related to how much you sleep at night. But there is so much research to suggest that just getting outside and experiencing nature will increase your mood, and will increase those “happy” hormones like dopamine and serotonin.” Things such as playing team sports, competitive or non-competitive, has the feeling of camaraderie, where you feel part of a group and that will increase your self esteem.