March 16, 2023
By Courtney Wise
Hello MindSite readers! In this edition, we look at several troubling mental health stories about the internet: one about feelings of intense anger and betrayal among children constantly forced to be in videos uploaded to millions of fans by their social media influencer parents, a related story about the stress and anxiety that’s rampant among young influencers, and a “Bold Glamour” AI filter on TikTok that is leading some users, including many teens, to despise the way they look.
In more hopeful news, you’ll meet some Japanese-American moms with mentally ill children who are banding togeher for support and to counter the stigma around mental health.
Children of social media influencers lament living their childhood online
Claire, whose name was changed to protect her identity, is a YouTube superstar. Her family’s channel has millions of subscribers, nearly a billion views, and Claire’s image is plastered across merchandise. The collection of videos show her growth from toddlerhood to adolescence, and when she walks down the street, sometimes people stop her to ask for photos. The channel has afforded her family celebrity and many material comforts in life, including a big house, fancy car, and the opportunity for both of her parents to quit their jobs and focus on building YouTube revenue. But as Claire told Teen Vogue, if she had a choice, none of those videos would even exist.
“I try not to be resentful but I kind of am,” she said. After telling her father she’d rather not do YouTube videos anymore, he told her that if she stopped, he and her mother would have to go back to work and the family no longer have money for nice things. “It’s a lot of pressure,” said Claire. It’s also such a challenging existence—one she never asked for—that Claire is considering cutting her parents out of her life when she turns 18. She even plans to inform the public about the perils of her social media stardom, similar to what another unnamed YouTube star did through a letter on a friend’s TikTok account.
“To any parents that are considering starting a family vlog or monetizing your children’s lives on the public internet, here is my advice: you shouldn’t do it,” the letter read. “Any money you get will be greatly overshadowed by years of suffering… your child will never be normal. I never consented to being online.”
Claire also wonders if her parents are really saving any portion of the money they earn for her college or personal financial future. Unlike California’s Coogan Law, which ensures at least 15% of earnings from child actors are set aside by their employers in a blocked trust, there are no such protections for child social media influencers. Activists and some legislators in Washington state are pushing for a bill that would provide similar protection, but across the nation, there really isn’t much legal action in regard to influencer culture.
A mental health support group for Japanese-American moms
Trying to get mental health care can feel like an obstacle course for native-born, English-speaking Americans. So just imagine the strain immigrant families experience when language and cultural barriers are tossed into the mix. Chiaki, who moved from Japan to the U.S. thirty-seven years ago when her husband’s job transferred him overseas, had so much difficulty, she told the Los Angeles Times, she started a support group, NAMI South Bay, for other Japanese mothers like her.
At the time, her son had been recently diagnosed with schizophrenia, and she felt alone and unsure of how to get him help. When she attempted to help him apply for Social Security benefits over the phone, there was no effort to connect her to an interpreter when she hit a language barrier – the agent just hung up. Later, when she attempted to get her son moved to a home for adults with mental illnesses after his case worker erroneously sent him to a sober living facility, he wasn’t transferred until he’d been beaten up by fellow patients. That’s when she turned to the National Alliance on Mental Illness for help—but all their meetings were in English. “I was frustrated and truly had such a difficult time with the language and culture in dealing with my situation,” Chiaki said. “And I really wanted to be able to share my thoughts with other Japanese people in the Japanese language.”
Since 2012, more than 100 Japanese mothers have reached out to Chiaki for help and found it, including Naomi Mizushima, who joined NAMI South Bay in 2020, shortly after her teenage son Eutah’s suicide attempt. She said that after he was released from the hospital, the family pretended like nothing had happened. “It was kind of like a shock, like ‘Why is he doing this to us?’ type of thing,” Mizushima said. “It was beyond my understanding as to why he would do that. I remember thinking that I can’t talk about this to my sisters or to my family. We, as a family, never talked about any issue of mental health.” Eutah recalled the cultural barrier being so great that, even when the family began therapy with a Japanese-speaking counselor, the mental health provider also struggled finding the right words.
As a result of those experiences and a desire to support her son, Mizushima became certified in conducting mental health workshops and founded 1000 Cranes for Recovery, an organization working to reduce the stigma associated with mental illness in Japanese communities through education and events. The name references a Japanese tradition where community members work together and fold 1,000 origami cranes in a wish for somebody’s physical wellness during an illness. There is still surprise from audience members when they learn her efforts are to support mental health. “Because normally Japanese or Japanese Americans do not even talk about that because of the shame, right?” Mizushima said. “But some of them approached me later and said ‘it’s very important that we do talk about that.’” (You can read the excellent article by LA Times staffer Phi Do here.)
Join MindSite News for an important live discussion on youth mental health with youth advisory board members from Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation (BTWF) and a Q&A led by BeMe Health. During this discussion, we will gain valuable insight directly from young leaders regarding the mental health problems youth are grappling with and learn more about the BTWF’s mission of supporting the mental health of young people and their work to build a kind and braver world.
The pitfalls of TikTok’s “Bold Glamour” filter
If you (or your children) have spent any time on TikTok recently, you’ve probably encountered the app’s Bold Glamour filter. It’s different from other filters on the app, Luke Hurd, an augmented reality consultant, told NPR. “It’s not cartoon-y. It’s not drastically aging you, or turning you into a child, or flipping your gender on its head,” he said. In fact, experts say it uses advanced AI to reconstruct your face into a thinner, more sculpted version. The filter is even designed to hide itself from easy detection, meaning when a face moves or is partially covered in a video, the image stays intact, unlike other face-layering effects.
That blurring between reality and fiction is something that can have a lasting impact on your sense of self, said Renee Engeln, director of the Body and Media Lab at Northwestern University. “Your own face that you see in the mirror suddenly looks ugly to you. It doesn’t look good enough,” she told NPR. “It looks like something you need to change. It makes you more interested in plastic surgery and other procedures.” In other words, it’s precisely the kind of filter that can distort a person’s perception of what faces actually look like, which can be triggering to anyone with mental health challenges related to self-image.
“It adds to this culture where a lot of young people are feeling really alienated from themselves, really struggling to just be in the world every day with other human beings without feeling like they have to perform and appear to be someone they’re not,” Engeln said. “So I think it’s a good reminder that these filters should be taken seriously.”
In other news …
After her own experience with pregnancy loss, Simmone Taitt launched an app, Poppy Seed Health, to boost emotional health during pregnancy and birth. The app connects those who are pregnant, postpartum or who have experienced loss with doulas, midwives, and nurses via text message chats. Taitt told Ebony magazine that, to date, 50% of Poppy Seed Health’s trained respondents are BIPOC and 30% identify as LGBTQIA+.
In case you missed it, this article from Women’s Health is a good reminder that “social media influencer” is now a job — one that can come with some serious work hazards, including viewers who constantly want to tell the influence how much they hate them. And if you’re constantly watching social influencers, you may not be doing so well, either. “You wouldn’t watch television commercials as if they were real life, and you should treat social media consumption the same way,” said clinical psychologist Jaime Zuckerman. “With each post you scroll by, do the best you can to remind yourself of the difference between reality and non-reality.”
If you or someone you know is in crisis or experiencing suicidal thoughts, call or text 988 to reach the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline and connect in English or Spanish. If you’re a veteran press 1. If you’re deaf or hard of hearing dial 711, then 988. Services are free and available 24/7.
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