Sarahah, social media and self-esteem: What it can mean for your mental health

We spoke to mental health experts to understand if the app can impact one's emotional health

Most of us are curious about what others think of us. Receiving compliments or kind words from others can make us feel better and give us a sense of acceptance. At the same time, hearing that someone else doesn’t like something we do, or that another person doesn’t enjoy spending time with us can be difficult to deal with. That said, for many of us, the sense of curiosity is stronger than our fear—and that may be what has contributed to the popularity of Sarahah in the last couple of weeks.

We spoke to mental health experts to understand why someone would sign up for Sarahah, and whether it can impact mental health.

What is Sarahah?

Sarahah is an online platform that allows a person to open themselves up to anonymous feedback from their circles. For the last few weeks, users on social media have been sharing links to their Sarahah pages on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, seeking feedback from people they know. Some of the feedback may be warm and constructive, but users have also experienced bullying and online abuse.  

Why do people open themselves up to anonymous feedback?

The idea of receiving feedback can be tempting. It’s similar to being on social media and receiving likes and comments on your pictures; it gives us a sense of validation. But what most of us don’t consider is that anonymity can be a dangerous tool. People do things anonymously that they wouldn’t, if their identities were revealed. So it’s not a question of whether Sarahah is good or bad. The question is: can you, the user, handle receiving negative feedback?

How does negative feedback affect us?

Psychologist Sonali Gupta says it all boils down to one’s ability to take feedback. “Some people are able to receive negative feedback mindfully. They take it as an opportunity to look at their behavior and ask themselves if they need to take this feedback seriously. But for someone who isn’t able to do that, it can be hugely upsetting. It depends on how much feedback one can take. A lot of people think they can handle it, but the truth is, a lot of people aren’t able to,” she says.

Negative feedback can also have a strong impact on the brain. Dr Bhooshan Shukla, child and adolescent psychiatrist, says, “To put it simply, you need five pieces of positive feedback to counter the effect of one piece of negative feedback. But who can guarantee this?”

The feedback you receive can influence how you see yourself, but putting yourself out there on an app like this also means you’re opening yourself to something that comes with bullying or trolling—and anonymity makes it very easy. Moreover, there is a huge difference between negative feedback and hate speech. “Feedback is when the person wants the other one to bring about a change in their actions. It has nothing to do with the person themselves. Hate speech, on the other hand, is never constructive and is usually a personal attack on someone with comments that are based on gender, caste, class, lifestyle choices, etc,” says Paras Sharma, a counseling psychologist.      

Who is vulnerable?

Anyone who suffers from low self-esteem can be at the risk of getting overwhelmed when they receive negative feedback. If your self-esteem comes from how others see you, then negative feedback can trigger a lot of anxiety.

Negative feedback can particularly affect people who are anxious, socially anxious, or have borderline depression—they may believe that the feedback means that no one loves them. And this can be fairly dangerous. On the other hand, people can also become anxious whether anyone is posting anything about them at all.

“The truth is that Sarahah is just like any other social media platform for people who want to spread hatred and abuse. But the only difference here is that there is no accountability on Sarahah since it is an anonymous platform. In this context, it is important for caregivers to tell their loved ones affected by it, that regardless of what anyone says on the platform, the person does not deserve the hate speech that they are receiving,” says Paras.

If you are feeling overwhelmed with the messages you have received, talk to someone you trust. You can also call any of the helplines below :

ICall:  022-25521111/022-25563291 (Monday to Saturday, 8 am to 10 pm) or write to icall@tiss.edu

 Sneha India: 044-24640050; 91-44-2464 0060 (works 24/7) or e-mail help@snehaindia.org

Parivarthan Counseling Helpline: Helpline number: 080 - 65333323 (Monday to Friday, 4 pm to 10 pm)

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