Belfast woman has seen negative impact of social media on the young
‘I found a support network online during my recovery from eating disorder and self-harm... but I’ve experienced the negative side of it too’
A Belfast woman recovering from self-harm and an eating disorder has said social media is a double-edged sword.
Lucy Grainger (21) admitted that while social media helped her to find a support network in her recovery, she has to be careful about its negative side, such as bullying and the feelings of anxiety it can cause.
Lucy witnessed her father die from a heart attack when she was three and, after trauma in her childhood, she developed bulimia and started self-harming.
By the age of 13 she had attempted suicide and her life spiralled out of control.
She explained: "At the start, my experience with social media was negative, it was mostly bullying and there was a lot of judgment.
"There is a dark side to a lot of social media. Young people would post photos of them self-harming, they would post photos of themselves half undressed and very underweight.
"People post things because they think it is their outlet but they are triggering other people in the process by posting these photos and it is not okay.
"That is why I start reporting these things because I don't want other people to see them and get triggered and hurt themselves over it."
Despite her challenges, Lucy managed to complete her GCSEs, but unfortunately spent the following few years in and out of psychiatric wards and sleeping on friends' sofas.
Tragically, during this time Lucy lost several friends to suicide while she herself made over 100 suicide attempts.
Two years ago she bumped into an old school friend by chance, who suggested she get in touch with the Prince's Trust, which helps vulnerable young people get their lives on track.
Initially she was reluctant, but decided to make the call.
Before the Prince's Trust, her life was upside down, she said. Taking part in the Prince's Trust team programme at Colin Glen in Belfast was the catalyst which allowed her to change her life.
"At first I thought I didn't want to do it," she admitted. "I thought I wasn't well enough and that it would be a waste of my time. But I went along and that was pretty much it."
During the programme, she channelled her energy into a series of activities which helped her to develop her self- confidence.
Lucy, who has aspirations to become a social worker, is now an outspoken mental health advocate.
Recently she was elected chair of the NI Youth Forum and is one of a team of young people delivering suicide awareness sessions on a peer to peer basis across Northern Ireland.
She said: "I go around schools, youth clubs and juvenile detention centres and in universities.
"I tell my story as well as teaching coping strategies and outlining where to get help."
She has also helped developed a new programme called SHED (self-harm and eating disorders) for parents so that they can learn to spot the warning signs in their own children.
Last October, Lucy won the Northern Ireland HSBC UK Breakthrough award at The Prince's Trust awards held at the Lyric Theatre in Belfast.
Now that her relationship with social media is more positive, Lucy says she has found it a useful way of finding support.
However, she has urged young people who are struggling with social media to take a break from it for a short time.
"If someone is caught up in social media and can't get out of it, I would say put up a post telling people you are going to deactivate your account for 48 hours.
"I did that and it was one of the best things I have ever done because it made me realise what else I have in life apart from social media," she said.
"At the start it was really weird because I was grabbing for my phone but it wasn't here - after that you get used to it and begin to appreciate life more it makes you think 'oh I could go ice skating' or 'I'm going to actually talk to someone, I'm going to go for coffee'."