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Should we normalise taking regular social media breaks?

Actor Tom Holland has announced he will be taking a break from social media for the sake of his mental health. Does his openness mark a turning point in our attitudes toward anxiety, depression, and the internet – particularly amongst young men?

Celebrities announcing their withdrawal from Instagram and Twitter is nothing new. Especially when the hiatus is driven by a concern for mental health. But these very public admissions of personal struggle are often shared by more women, trans, and non-binary stars than cis men.

This week, however, actor Tom Holland (26) shared that he was removing himself from Twitter and Instagram as he found them to be ‘overstimulating’ and ‘overwhelming’.

Holland made the announcement via an Instagram video, which was posted to his 67 million followers. Holland’s caption promoted a charity ‘Stem4’, which is dedicated to encouraging positive mental health among teenagers.

‘On this very brief return to Instagram, I thought this would be a very important and a good idea to shed some light on a charity that we sponsor’. Holland commended Stem4’s ‘mental health conferences’ were helping young children who were ‘suffering’ from issues such as anxiety and depression.

‘Love to you all, and let’s get talking about mental health’ Holland wrote.

The video has been well received amongst fans, who left well wishes and warm comments on the post. ‘Please take all the time you need’ one said. ‘The thing that matters the most is your wellbeing’.

Holland’s statement comes as mental health struggles with young men are at a high. Rob Whitley, of McGill University in Canada, described the rates of mental health struggle in young men as a ‘silent crisis’, with men accounting for around 70% of suicides across the globe.

But the number of cis men in the spotlight who have shared their personal mental health struggles has been growing steadily.

Justin Bieber has helped to shift the stigma around men’s mental health with a number of public statements about his own experiences.

Bieber has been candid about his struggle with depression, saying in 2020 that he had learnt over the years ‘that we all go through our ups and downs, and we all need help sometimes’. Bieber was one of many stars to share support for Holland’s post this week, commenting ‘Love you man’ beneath the video.

While discussions around mental health – particularly that of cis-White men – has become somewhat less of a taboo, statements like Holland’s are raising the question of how necessary social media breaks actually are.

The correlation between social media and our mental health has been explored since these platforms were first introduced. Designed to be addictive and proven to increase anxiety and depression, social media is constantly criticised.

And yet, big platforms are still monopolising our lives, from the culture we consume, to the financial landscape we navigate, to the health of the planet itself. Last year, Instagram made approximately $46.6 billion in revenue, while fast-growing app TikTok made $4.6 billion.

The success these apps enjoy in the face of backlash is a testament to their design. By releasing dopamine in the brains of their users, platforms like TikTok and Instagram are inherently addictive, and keep us coming back for more even when we know it isn’t in our best interest.

Holland’s announcement and subsequent support follow a recent shift in attitudes toward social media amongst its most prolific users. This month, celebrities have called out Instagram’s latest updates, which many suggest are an attempt by the app to become more like competitor platform TikTok.

Stars like Kylie Jenner, who has 360 million Instagram followers, re-shared a viral post which read ‘Make Instagram Instagram again (stop trying to be TikTok I just want to see cute photos of my friends)’.

The post alludes to the influx of paid content on social media platforms, which have destroyed their community element.

While Tom Holland’s decision to break from Instagram and Twitter proves we have a way to go in getting back to where we started – using social media to connect with loved ones and share snippets of our lives – the openness of public figures, and the warm response by their legions of fans, proves we certainly want to.

When celebrities like Tom Holland speak up about their own struggles with social media, it reminds us that internet addiction shouldn’t be a source of shame.

But most importantly, it raises awareness of how these apps impact our mental health – ultimately opening the door for more honest discussions around our wellbeing, particularly amongst groups (like cis men) who are less likely to have these conversations.