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Mental health and social media: The lived experiences of MCAST students

Authors: Matthew Borg , ,
  • Institute: Learning Support Unit
  • Symposium: Social Well-being, Sports and Health
  • Day: 2 , Session: 2 , Location: Conference Hall 2
  • Session Type: Short 10 min (Early stage research) , Start: 12:00 , End: 12:15

Abstract

Main project: Mental health, stigma and social media: The lived experiences of MCAST students, is a research project that will set out to discover the main social drivers of mental health issues amongst our students at MCAST. This research proposal is practically an outcome of the Beyond GDP Report (2020), which was commissioned by the Commission of Justice and Peace. Following the final findings of the report, the Commission approached MCAST to propose research projects in light of the final recommendations. This report, amongst other things, clearly states that there is a lack of data regarding mental health in Malta, thus it encouraged me to come up with a proposal that sheds a light on this phenomena, specifically on our students at MCAST. Moreover, from my find outs, there is very little research at MCAST regarding the mental wellbeing of our students at the college. As suggested by the title, this social investigation will explore our students's mental health in light of stigma and the social media. These themes, although they are certainly correlated, they are not mutually exclusive and this sociological study will clarify this from the start. Ellul (2019) in her dissertation outlines that at MCAST the students are becoming more inclined to seek support due to two causes: unhealthy lifestyles and more awareness. Therefore, my intention is to dig deeper and get really close to the lived experiences of our students to better understand the social causations of mental health issues. For this reason, I am opting for a purely qualitative methodology based on unstructured interviews and focus groups with students. This sample should be cross-sectional to acquire more validity. I also intend to conduct focus groups with the main stakeholders in the field of youths and mental health; these should include the college’s therapists, councillors, chaplains and student mentors. As indicated by the findings of Ellul’s (2019) dissertation, students are leading unhealthy lifestyles and I propose that one of them is the excessive use of social media. In fact Rogers and Pilgrim (2021) state that “adolescents themselves perceive social media as a threat to their mental wellbeing, with some believing it to be the cause of mood and anxiety disorder, a platform for cyberbullying and the use of of social media itself was conceptualised as a type of ‘addiction’.” In all of this, both as a result of social media but not exclusively, stigma may still play a crucial role even though there is more awareness at MCAST. Stigma is “a culturally enduring phenomenon, maintained as much in degree and kind by social structures and cultural variations as it is by the response of individuals encountering deviant behaviour” (Pescosolido et al. 2013). Therefore, the research will critically explore the ‘normalisation’ of mental health as indicated by the prevalent discourse of ‘awareness’ at the college. The research questions, directed both to the students and to the relevant stakeholders, will intend to discover the possibility of stigmatisation in a social environment which professes an increased level of ‘mental health awareness’ and also analyse the effects of the constant pervasiveness of social media in the context of young people’s lives. Comparing and contrasting both sets of data is paramount and certainly enriching for the scope of this research.