How ‘Instagram therapy’ is helping women with mental health

Women make up the majority of people living with mood disorders in Canada. However, treatments and resources that are adapted to their needs are still lacking. Looking for ways to feel better, many women are turning to social media platforms like Instagram.

To make sense of the phenomenon called “Instagram therapy,” I interviewed more than 20 women in 2020 who use Instagram for mental health care. I found that women turn to the image-sharing platform to counter the lack of available resources. Instagram allows them to tackle issues related to their gender identity, connect to others with similar experiences and, ultimately, feel less alone.

Even though awareness about mental health has increased, especially during the pandemic, gender-based stigmas, biases and expectations continue to affect women’s well-being at a growing rate.

Hysterical histories

These issues date back to 19th-century psychiatry. Women were portrayed as hysterical or “crazy,” and over-represented among the mentally ill, entertaining the idea that insanity is inherent to women’s nature.

Consequently, women are not only more susceptible to being labelled as mad, but traditional psychology also tends to generalize their experiences, not taking into consideration that gender is lived differently depending on race, sexual identity and other social determinants. Today, even though years of research have challenged the association between women and madness, gender norms continue to affect women’s well-being and accessibility to adequate care.