Live Streaming and Mental Health: Challenges and Solutions

Live streaming Singapore as a mode of engagement continues to grow amongst society, and current world events have only worked to reinforce this. More and more individuals are going online to fill the void of social contact left by isolation. This includes people who have existing mental health issues, and those who are otherwise struggling with their emotional well-being due to the stresses of the pandemic. While social interaction is often touted as a remedy to mental health issues, especially depression, the use of live streaming Singapore online is a largely unexplored frontier when it comes to its effect on viewer mental health. Previous studies have looked at how internet usage in general affects mental health, but no known study has focused specifically on live streaming. Live streaming is a form of virtual social interaction and so, similar to real-life socializing, it may carry both benefit and harm to a person’s mental state.

Challenges in Live Streaming and Mental Health

With streaming being an advanced form of group therapy, these viewers and streamers are placed in a unique environment to interact with others in similar situations. HighHeeledGamer, a streamer who has dealt with depression, equates the bonding experience in mental health-related group therapy and the atmosphere of a positive stream. This form of group therapy is quite advantageous but a double-edged sword. HighHeeledGamer goes on to say that the bonds created amongst certain internet friends are amazing and can even help people climb out of their depression more so than face-to-face interactions. Unfortunately, the nature of the internet includes a high risk of friends or communities dispersing. A person who feels they lost a streamer they were close with or a group of friends they had on an internet forum is once again put in a worst-case scenario. With their mental state already being unstable, these circumstances can bring about separation anxiety and worsen one’s depression if they feel they have no way to reconnect with those people. Under these same circumstances, people who have had bad interactions on the internet have been known to create smear campaigns in attempts to publicly shame those who they feel have wronged them. For streamers and viewers alike, a simple public argument can be blown out of proportion, and those involved may be subjected to cyberbullying and online harassment.

Studies suggest that around half of the live streaming users report talking about a problem via the internet rather than in person. This can be a problem for those with mental health issues, says Kearns. Live streamers often develop close relationships with their viewers through their interactions on chat. Private chat messages and public conversations between streamers and viewers greatly vary in terms of content. Interactions may be light-hearted and fun, potentially lifting people’s moods by acting as a distraction from their stresses. Streams may also take a turn for the worse, where viewers confide in streamers with their personal problems. While this is fine on the viewer’s end, it is a burdening task for the streamers receiving emotional baggage from their viewers. An emotional streamer may be more susceptible to taking on the problems of others and in effect apply more negativity to their own mental state. This type of personal conversation could have occurred in a traditional therapy session; however, many streamers are not prepared to deal with these situations, and the conversation may end with the streamer ignoring the viewer as to not bring down the mood of the stream. This can, in turn, make the viewer feel rejected and worsen their initial state of mind. Lastly, there is the instance where drama between streamers or viewers may occur on a public platform, starting unnecessary conflicts and taking a toll on those involved.

Impact of Live Streaming on Mental Health

A study by Rose et al. sampled students from the USA, Australia, and England to gauge the nature of cyberbullying and its effects, showing that 78% of the sample reported to have been victims of cyberbullying. It is evident that the nature of cyberbullying can highly affect the emotional and mental state of an individual. This is reinforced by research on offline and online bullying conducted by Nansel et al., which found that victims of cyberbullying experience greater psychosomatic and somatic symptoms. Given the already fragile state of individuals suffering from mental health conditions, cyberbullying has the potential to exacerbate conditions and has even led to cases of suicide brought forward by extreme psychological distress.

CSRF Vulnerability and how it can compromise privacy and maintaining the security of personal data, streaming platforms have publicized user data much more easily accessible. The impact of cyberbullying in comparison to traditional bullying is no less significant. With the growth of technology, the internet, and social media have become integrated into the daily lives of youths. The anonymity that the internet and social media provide means cyberbullying can often cut deeper as victims are faced with intrusive or malicious messages in ungoverned territories usually perceived as safe. Messages or images can now spread rapidly to a wide audience, and the bully no longer has to be present or reveal their identity. This can often lead to a sense of powerlessness as the victim cannot avoid the bully and may result in further psychological effects.

Before we proceed to the respective on the subject of the impact of cyberbullying as facilitated by live streaming and its effects on mental health, we must first understand why individuals partake in the act of cyberbullying. According to Dooley, as stated in the APA, some youth may take part in online bullying to fit in with their peers and impress them, or to assert their power and status. They may do this in response to being bullied themselves or to feelings of insecurity, or to gain attention or a reaction, especially if they are impulsive. Another reason can also be to hide behind the anonymity the internet provides. It is common that the desire to seek revenge from being bullied can lead to cyberbullying, and it is sometimes the case that the bully does not see the consequences their actions can have on the victim.

Cyberbullying and Online Harassment

Harassment was identified as the unwanted conduct targeting someone based on a specific characteristic with the intent to violate that person’s dignity or create a hostile environment for the victim. Results from a national survey revealed that victims who have experienced cyberbullying and online harassment were at double the risk for suicidal ideation than those who were not exposed to this type of victimization. Live streamers who have been victims of cyberbullying may feel that they have no escape, impacting the quality of the content that they create. High levels of cyberbullying victimization have been linked to internal mental health problems such as perceived stress, anxiety, and depression. Resilient coping skills have been said to lower the risks that cyberbullying has on mental health outcomes. This is important to consider when finding solutions to prevent cyberbullying for live streamers and create an environment for them to thrive.

Cyberbullying is a serious problem with potentially severe consequences. Research reveals that young adults who have experienced cyberbullying report high levels of depression and substance use. Girls are more likely to be targeted with cyberbullying and online rumoring than boys. Youth have reported that being a target of online rumors affects the way they feel about themselves. Rumors can damage a youth’s reputation and self-esteem. Studies have shown that LGBTQ+ youth and young adults are more likely to be cyberbullied when compared to their straight peers. Additionally, youth from racial/ethnic minorities are more likely to be targeted with cyberbullying. This type of harassment can have lasting effects on the mental health of today’s youth.

Privacy and Security Concerns

Fearing for privacy and personal security while sharing their testimonies, the consolidated nature of the internet makes it nigh impossible for streamers to retain complete control over who gains access to their content, or knowledge of personal details and identity. A 2017 study found that 72% of Americans were challenged by issues of privacy and data security. The spread of misinformation, defamation, and hate speech can lead to streamers facing continued emotional distress, in some cases provoking mental health relapse or instances of self-harm. The endorsement of secure, private platforms as well as education and awareness on internet security are crucial to maintaining the mental health of streamers in facing the ever-growing task of data protection. Many scenarios which lead to privacy invasion and information abuse may occur without the consent of streamers. An overt example is stream raids, an organized group effort to search for a victim who is live streaming, often with intent to offend, provoke a reaction, or cause emotional trauma. The act of doxxing, the malicious distribution of personal information with intent to abuse or harass, has led to instances of police intervention and mental health crises. Measures must be taken to prevent these occurrences, in upholding the safety and privacy of content creators as equal members in the online community.

Solutions for Promoting Mental Health in Live Streaming

This can be addressed in a number of ways. Firstly, by fostering an environment where there is adequate social support. As discussed earlier, the lack of social support seen among live streamers is perceived as detrimental to mental health. While social support may be difficult to enforce, simply fostering an environment where viewers and streamers feel safe and comfortable to discuss their problems may be a step in the right direction. Additionally, developing an environment where social relationships and community can be strengthened between viewers and streamers may increase social support. Live streaming, particularly when small numbers of viewers are involved, can create an environment where meaningful social relationships can be formed. Encouraging this behavior may be beneficial to the mental health of streamers and viewers. However, this may be difficult as the ability of a streamer to set the tone of their community can have large impacts on the type of people who become viewers and their subsequent behavior.

A combination of the discussion and findings throughout this paper has concluded that the impact of live streaming on the mental health of both the streamer and the viewer can be negative. Many streamers and viewers reported that they had experienced or witnessed online harassment, experienced difficulty in separating their online and offline persona, and found a lack of social support, all of which were seen as detrimental to mental health. One of the primary steps required to abate these issues would be to promote positive mental health in the online live streaming community.

Implementing Moderation and Reporting Systems

These tools are versatile and scalable, providing an effective solution for both small and large communities of stream viewers and content producers.

Reporting systems allow users to flag specific content or behavior for review by moderators. If the reported content is in violation of website terms of service or deemed to be harmful for the individual or community, it can be removed, or the content producer can receive a warning or ban. A combination of user-friendly reporting systems and clearly enforced consequences for reported content is an effective strategy for enabling users to control the content available to them and participate in creating a positive environment on live streaming websites.

Moderation systems are often used by the operators of a particular website to control and potentially remove inappropriate or offensive user-generated content. This system is particularly useful for live streaming websites, as the interactivity and dynamic content provide a platform for a wide range of behaviors and content that is not conducive to maintaining a positive mental health environment. An effective moderation system can significantly reduce the amount of harmful content or behavior evident on live streaming websites.

Moderation and reporting systems are widely used tools for optimizing patterns of communication evident through the internet. With the implementation of moderation and reporting systems, users of live streaming websites are able to control the content that is available to them, as well as the content they personally produce.

Providing Mental Health Resources and Support

Mental health resources and support are underrepresented and difficult to access in the digital age. Supporting the mental health of streamers is important because, by lacking support, they are more prone to mental health decline, leading to various issues such as burnout. Streamers might also start using their platform to express negative behavior instead of their regular content. For viewers, not seeing support could lead them to thinking that mental health issues are not a serious health condition or shouldn’t be talked about. They could also generalize that streamers make an abundant amount of money and think that money leads to happiness. This misconception can be damaging to the viewers’ mental health. By providing mental health resources and support to both streamers and viewers, mental health literacy can be improved. Having access to information about mental health, tips, and where to get help can help improve an individual’s ability to manage their own mental health. High mental health literacy can reduce stigma associated with mental illnesses and lead to more accepting and supportive communities. By improving the mental health of streamers, it can lead to them being more efficient in their work, reducing potential burnout from overwork. Growing a supportive community around viewers can help with the development of their mental health, and having a positive support system can help a person manage through tough times. With proper mental health resources and support, both streamers and viewers can experience mental well-being, resulting in an overall healthier community.

Promoting Positive Online Communities

A positive and inclusive online community can exist through clear guidelines and expectations for behavior. This can be set by community or page administrators. For example, SANE Australia’s online community, SANE Forums, has a ‘charter’ which outlines the type of community they aim to be and what is expected of all members. Regular and consistent moderation will be needed to tackle any behavior that goes against these guidelines. Internet ‘trolls’ and people who seek to disrupt or cause distress can be a significant barrier to creating a safe environment and will need to be dealt with sensitively and assertively. This may involve educating the person on why their behavior is not appropriate, or ultimately removal and blocking of the person from the community. A supportive and positive environment should also be reinforced through the sharing of positive and helpful information and resources. This may involve pinned posts, regular informative updates, and encouragement of member contributions.

Positive online communities can contribute to a sense of belonging and support, especially helpful for those who are struggling with mental health issues. It is important to promote environments where people feel comfortable expressing themselves and sharing what they’re going through. Peer support can have a greater impact on social inclusion and stigma reduction for mental health. Connecting with those who have similar experiences can help to validate feelings and reduce social isolation. An instant chat group with a similar focus (e.g. anxiety, depression, self-harm) has the potential to foster friendship, understanding, and mutual support. Although it is important to note that some support groups may not be beneficial, especially if they support and encourage harmful behaviors. An ideal environment is one that encourages positive coping, active participation, and where users are empowered with knowledge and skills to help their own recovery as well as providing help for others. This can be challenging within an online environment and may need some degree of facilitation or guidance to maintain.

Educating Streamers and Viewers on Mental Health Awareness

For streamers, a detailed guide can be provided on how to recognize and handle viewers who may share concerns related to mental health. While some viewers may be satisfied with simply having someone there to talk to, others may require professional help that the caster should never try to substitute. Posters placed in Twitch forums and a guide displayed at sign-in to a caster’s dashboard can improve the chances of streamers noticing this crucial information. This topic is something that is often overlooked and not all streamers know when or how to react when viewers confide in them. An example of proper communication (or perhaps a skit involving role-play) would be useful. Fictitious it may be, some streamers are visual learners and can interpret this video as a standard to follow for the future. Advice from experienced streamers who have dealt with such situations can be recorded and transcribed into articles for those who may not want to watch a video. While unable to force the streamer to become educated on this topic, informative emails can still be sent out to partnered streamers. These emails should not be identical to those sent to viewers; a professional stance can be maintained without making the recipient feel targeted as an individual who may have a mental health issue. Mentioning that the streamer can help someone, without directly using the issue as a hook, is a good starting point to draw the streamer in to read more.

Finally, Twitch can provide a set of “mental health” related emotes available for purchase. An agreed portion of the proceeds can be donated to a mental health organization. Viewers may be more inclined to support something that they can get entertainment out of and also use as a means to connect with others who share the same emotes.

Another possible way to educate viewers would be to host week-long campaigns across different streaming channels that are centered around specific mental health issues (e.g. providing facts and ways to deal with depression and anxiety). This can be coordinated by large groups of Twitch casters who have an impact on their specific communities. Viewers can be more engaged when they see their favorite streamers working together on a project that is larger than any single streamer. These campaigns can conclude with charity events for related mental health organizations. The sense of charitable work builds a positive image for the live streaming community, and can personally help viewers feel involved since they may have experienced the topic firsthand. A sense of unity can also be developed between viewers of different communities when they hear of or see multiple casters promoting the same cause.

There are multiple ways that viewers can become educated. One way is the implementation of 5-30 second ads during streams that share specific facts about mental health and coping tactics for dealing with life’s challenges. Viewers are highly unlikely to go and seek out information if they do not realize they need it. These short moments on live streams can serve as a gentle reminder, with the potential to help them understand themselves better. These ads can also be shown in the streamer’s offline videos, for those who go through and watch the videos they missed. Eye-catching graphics and popular Twitch emotes can be utilized to engage the viewer when the stream is unpaused. By doing so, the aim is to captivate the viewer’s attention rather than push them to focus on another task until the ad is over.

It should also be noted that there were some negative experiences with live streaming data found in research. Discussion forums were collected in a study by Campbell and Ritz using an ethnography approach, for research into how those with disabilities use the internet. One participant that was an individual with depression expressed feelings of shyness and a lack of assertiveness. He proceeded to state that he does not always act in his best interests as a consequence. This led to the participant feeling occasionally vulnerable to the exploitative nature of others in a chat room and ultimately led to avoidance of participating in any form of cyber communication. This suggestion of vulnerability to mental health sufferers necessitates a cautious approach to recommending live streaming and a need for further research into protections for at-risk users.

This paper has reviewed the literature available on live streaming and mental health. It was established that live streaming has many offerings to those suffering with mental health issues. Blogs by young adults described feelings of security, belonging, and displays of significance, all of which are relatable to the term psychological sense of community and a factor in recovery or management of mental health issues. Live streaming offers real-time interactions, emotional support, advice, validation of a person’s situation, and an opportunity to speak with others alike, all elements that were previously mentioned as contributors towards mental health recovery or management. This confirms the perspectives of those who have used live streaming while suffering with mental health issues, deeming it a beneficial tool when dealing with their conditions.

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