The number of social media users is increasing around world in recent years. Photo: Getty Images

By Paula Odek

Like millions around the world, Brenda Atieno found solace and excitement in the virtual world.

She was an active participant on various social media platforms, immersing herself in the world of TikTok and Clubhouse.

She would indulge in online conversations for hours on end, entertaining her followers and relishing the attention that came with it. But what started as a harmless escape soon spiralled into a gripping addiction.

Brenda's plight is a testament to the highs and lows of online fame. In the digital era, where scrolling, liking and sharing have become part of people's daily routines, it is undeniable that social media platforms have transformed the way we communicate, interact, and perceive the world.

Brenda’s slide down the slippery online slope came in a manner that brooked no stopping. "Social media was like a drug addiction," Brenda admits.

"I would spend over four hours a day scrolling, liking, sharing and producing content without even realising how it was consuming my life."

The outbreak of the pandemic forced Brenda to seek new avenues for social interaction, leading her to the captivating world of Clubhouse.

Here, she revelled in the diversity of cultures and topics, finding genuine connections with people from all walks of life. It was a breath of fresh air — a way to bridge the gap between the virtual and real worlds.

Perils of online fame

As Brenda delved deeper into her online presence, she encountered the dark side of social media fame. Trolls and bullies emerged from the shadows, attacking her with hurtful comments and relentless criticism.

Their words cut deep, taking her back to the days of high school, where she felt ostracised and ridiculed.

"They talked about everything, from my hair to my toes," Brenda recounts, her voice filled with both pain and determination. "My distinct voice and full lips became the target of their mockery. It felt like a never-ending nightmare."

Attention, as Brenda discovered, can be an intoxicating drug. The exhilaration of having hundreds, even thousands, of people watching and praising her every move became an addiction she struggled to break free from.

The joy of that love and adoration was undeniable, but like a house of cards, it eventually crumbled, replaced by a wave of hatred and negativity.

Climb back to real world

It was during this very time that Brenda made a courageous decision to distance herself from social media for two years.

A social media specialist checks her accounts. Photo: Reuters

In the face of chronic depression and emotional turmoil, she embarked on a journey of self-discovery and healing.

Determined to rise above the darkness, she turned to her education and psychoanalysis to battle the demons that plagued her.

"I secretly cried a couple of times," Brenda admits, her voice filled with vulnerability. "But eventually, I found the strength to open up about my struggles. That's when I truly began to fight back."

Armed with her knowledge and resilience, Brenda emerged from the depths of despair. She transformed her pain into empowerment, becoming an advocate for mental health and the dangers of online toxicity.

Brenda still appreciates social media platforms, saying that's where she met most of her friends and coordinated with many to build a women's foundation.

But what she realised over time is that one needs to take a step back and assess the impact of social media on their mental well-being.

Clinical Neuropsychologist Betty Oloo warns against excessive screen time, advocating a maximum of two hours a day, with breaks to allow our eyes to rest and to reconnect with the beauty of nature.

A man goes live on his social media account near the town of Mai Mahiu in Kenya. Photo: Reuters - 2018

Research conducted by the National Institute of Health in the US highlights a concerning correlation between prolonged social media usage and mental health problems, particularly among adolescents.

Spending more than three hours a day immersed in the virtual world puts individuals at an increased risk of experiencing difficulty in internalising problems, experts say.

Online bullying is real

It is important to first understand the nature of online bullying. Oloo explains that bullying entails seeking to harm, intimidate, or coerce someone perceived as vulnerable.

She says rather than dwelling on the reasons behind the bullying, it is crucial to identify the culprits and take necessary action to protect oneself. "The fixation on causing harm is their addiction," says Oloo.

"The more they see your fear, the more enticed they become. Blocking, exposing, and reporting them to authorities is essential in taking back control."

Oloo emphasises that cyber bullies often suffer from antisocial personality disorders and are in need of professional help too.

Experts say to counteract the negative impact of online toxicity, physical activity plays a vital role, and that by rekindling our connection with hobbies and engaging in regular exercise, we activate the release of happy hormones such as endorphins, serotonin, and dopamine.

The more active we become, the happier our brains, and the more effectively we combat feelings of loneliness, according to psychologists.

Additionally, engaging in physical interactions with others, embarking on travels, and exploring the world around us can further better our mental well-being.

The internet undoubtedly offers a wealth of knowledge and connection, but excessive consumption can be detrimental, experts warn.

It is crucial to identify websites and individuals on social media platforms that have a negative impact on our mental health.

TRT Afrika