Finstas Are Not The Answer To Poor Mental Health, They’re Part Of The Problem
Nowadays, pretty much every young person and their dog, quite literally, has an Instagram account.
Without a doubt, the internet is an incredible way to stay connected; to find entertainment and share parts of your life with the world. However, for every positive aspect of social media, there is also a negative.
The need to stay connected can result in a fear of missing out, and in turn an inability to switch off from the online world. Similarly, seeing aspects of other people’s lives creates a pressure to share your own, so we end up with filtered snippets showing only the parts people are happy to display.
These pressures to keep up with the online world can be tough on our mental health, as we can find ourselves feeling that our lives aren’t as glamorous or exciting as those we see online.
In turn, we feel the need to hide the ‘less desirable’ parts of life. This can be difficult in a world that revolves around sharing. As a result, many young people are resorting to Finstas, or ‘Fake Instas’, to post more honest content.
Finstas are secondary Instagram accounts, which people use to share posts that wouldn’t usually make it to their main page – whether it’s because it doesn’t fit their normal ‘aesthetic’, it’s too personal, or simply because it’s something they don’t want everyone to see.
Social media users utilise Finstas in different ways – some go by an alias, so no one really knows it belongs to them, while others make their account private, and filter the followers to ensure their posts are only seen by the people they accept.
As some people don’t typically use their main social accounts to share posts throwing back to tough days or photos of themselves looking anything but their best, Finstas can offer a place to share this lesser-seen type of content.
At first, they may seem like a good outlet for emotion and honesty. But, in reality, Finstas only serve to encourage the idea that less ‘glamorous’ parts of life should be hidden.
Finstas offer a way for users to pretend as if everything is fine, when really that may not be the case, and if people use the accounts to hide the fact they are struggling from those closest to them, they can risk closing themselves off to means of help.
Sofie Halili Villa, a 22-year-old transgender woman from Seattle, set up a private Finsta in 2018, before she underwent her transition.
She created the account after hearing about the concept from a friend, and accepted only 30-40 of her closest companions as followers – people she trusted not to screenshot her content and comment on it behind her back.
Sofie, who is also an aspiring model and YouTuber, made her ‘real’ Instagram, or ‘Rinsta’, home to ‘professional’ content, filling it with high quality selfies and photos of her out and about. In comparison, her ‘Finsta’ became a place for ‘emotional’ and ‘revealing’ posts.
Describing some of the things she’d share, Sofie told UNILAD:
I’d be crying alone in bed, having some emotional breakdown or whatever, and I’d be all ‘well now is the time’ and I go to my Finsta and start spamming weird Lindsay Lohan memes or pictures of my bloodshot, sobbing eyes.
I would post super revealing, emotional, ‘sad girl’ type stuff, like crying selfies, and also random memes with like super depressing captions. Like, a picture of Shrek or something captioned ‘I hope it all ends soon lol’. Then [I’d] just [leave] that up to everyone’s interpretation.
Sofie’s Finsta became an outlet through which she could ‘broadcast’ her thoughts and feelings whenever she experienced depression, or when she wanted to open up after a traumatic experience.
The 22-year-old didn’t want to share the same type of content on her real Instagram account, because she didn’t want people to see how much she was struggling with depression.
‘People only show you what they want you to see’ is super true in this case. Social media, especially when you want it to be your job or something, has to portray something profitable or follow-able.
My mental illness, my depression, are neither of those things, so I have to hide it all. Filtering is necessary to be successful on social media.
People don’t want to follow sad girls with real mental illness and crazy long depressive episodes, they wanna follow sad girls with smudgy eyeliner who tweet ‘ugh i hate my liiiife’ once in a while. So basically I just have to filter my whole entire existence, or else I’m not popular anymore.
Psychologist Dr. John Grohol, an expert in online behaviour, spoke to UNILAD about why young people may consider Finstas to be a ‘safe place’ to post content, especially if that content could be thought of as embarrassing or stigmatising.
Researchers have shown since the early 1990s that when people are pseudonymous, they feel more at ease online in talking about deeper or more personal issues. Finstas provide a mechanism to be pseudonymous.
Sofie described how using her Finsta helped her to process the things she was going through, in a similar way writing down or talking about issues may help others. She felt the account offered her an alternative to ‘unload[ing] everything on friends’.
Here’s a screenshot from her Finsta, for example:
While, at first, Sofie opened up through her Finsta, the account quickly became a source of anxiety for the aspiring model.
She would post content without caring what people thought about it, then start to panic just hours later about what she had put online. Ultimately, she ended up deleting a lot of her posts.
A lot of the time I wouldn’t read comments or check the likes or anything, I would just put it out there and be like ‘okay well now they know!!’ Then half the time I would wake up the next morning and have to archive like five pictures, because I just wasn’t in the right state of mind to be posting anything.
It’s like this morning-after feeling, like if you were drunk and texted your ex… When I’m having an emotional breakdown I would use my Finsta like a tissue to cry into and then wake up the next day and be all ‘OH GOD’ and delete my whole life and just worry about who saw it, if my friends are worried about me, and especially if they’re talking about me among themselves.
Personally I just want to give off a semi-stable vibe despite being extremely unstable.
Sofie came to realise her Finsta was not a healthy outlet through which she could discuss her feelings and issues; rather, it was detrimental to her mental wellbeing.
The 22-year-old told UNILAD her second account ‘enabled’ her depressive episodes and made her feel ‘weirdly validated’ when she posted personal content. She admitted that, while Finstas may be a useful way to vent for some people, it was not enough for her.
It was pretty sad that I relied on it. But without a therapist… I just needed SOME outlet, so my Finsta was all I had, I guess.
When you’re always posting crying selfies and being publicly depressed, that might just mean you need a therapist, not a Finsta. Personally, I just needed a therapist. Now I have a therapist!
Feeling the need to filter our lives online is extremely common, but undeniably sad. The fear of being judged by others, of not getting enough followers or ‘likes’, has taken over our ability to be our true, honest and unapologetic selves.
Addressing this issue, Dr. Grohol said:
All of social media suffers from the feeling of needing to constantly post in order to get the positive reinforcement from one’s followers, or to at least ensure you’re not disappointing them.
So if the Finsta becomes more trouble than it’s worth… a person should seriously reconsider the use of the second (or even third) account. One’s mental health and well-being should always be at the forefront of understanding why an app like Instagram is either making us feel better or contributing to feelings of anxiety, worry, and even depression.
If an app isn’t making your life better, then maybe it’s making it worse… and a person should try to be as objective as possible in weighing the benefits of such use versus the drawbacks.
Sofie told UNILAD one of the reasons she relied on her Finsta is because she felt speaking to her friends about her problems was ‘unfair and problematic’, but posting a selfie doesn’t help you to face and tackle issues.
Ultimately, it is always better to speak to someone – anyone – about mental health issues. If not friends, then a trustworthy adult, a helpline, or, like Sofie, a therapist.
After acknowledging her Finsta was not helping, Sofie decided to make the account public, so she’d be more wary of the things she was posting online.
Sofie now uses the page to post pictures with friends, and other content that ‘didn’t make it to [her] Rinsta’. She still posts selfies in which she’s crying, but ‘only the pretty ones’, as well as memes with ‘vague’ captions. However, she now posts in a more ‘mindful’ way because she ‘wants people to follow’ the account.
Speaking about her now-public page, Sofie commented:
I just had to force myself to make my Finsta public so that, before I post something, I’m like ‘ok the whole world is gonna see this’ and reconsider my actions.
It’s just like a ‘more of me’ account now, which does not negatively impact my mental health like when it was private, which is great for me because my mental health is quite fragile.
For example, here’s a screenshot from Sofie’s ‘Rinsta’:
The 22-year-old still has a few accounts which are not linked to her personal pages, which she uses to talk about her mental health and her experiences as a transgender woman, though she posts anonymously so she doesn’t worry about who sees the pages.
Now, Sofie says no one online sees the ‘real’ her, and that’s how she likes it.
A quick Twitter search for the word ‘Finstas’ reveals they are extremely common, and it’s clear people use them for a range of reasons. Ultimately, though, if they are being used as an alternative to speaking out about personal issues, then they need to be addressed as a problem.
Of course, there are always parts of life that we like to keep to ourselves, but online pressures shouldn’t be the reason for our silence. Filtering shouldn’t go hand in hand with social media success.
Mental health is something that needs to be accepted and talked about; it affects everyone, and deserves to have its place among selfies, food snaps and pictures of cute dogs, rather than being hidden behind secret accounts.
There should be no need to lead a ‘double life’ online and, as such, Finstas must not be seen as a solution to mental health issues.
If you’re experiencing distressing thoughts and feelings, the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) is there to support you. They’re open from 5pm–midnight, 365 days a year. Their national number is 0800 58 58 58 and they also have a webchat service if you’re not comfortable talking on the phone.
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CreditsSofie Halili Villa/Instagram
Sofie Halili Villa/Instagram