This Founder's Work is Level Setting Mental Wellness for Parents and Teens
Growing up with social media isn’t always easy. While it can be fun to share photos, videos, and stories, it also can also set unrealistic expectations and foster unhealthy comparisons. Larissa “Larz” May is one woman who depended on social media to promote herself as a professional in the fashion industry. But behind posts that garnered hundreds of “likes,” was a different kind of life. May’s mental health was constantly threatened by her overloaded work schedule, lack of sleep, and debilitating anxiety.
Her Social Media Profiles Only Showed Half the Story
After connecting with peers and professionals dealing with similar issues, May decided to create a space for people to share the “whole story” — their unfiltered experiences. With that, #HalfTheStory was born. “What began as an $800 grant for a senior art project has since become a globally recognized platform connecting people of all walks of life through sharing experiences, struggles, entrepreneurial journeys, and aspirations,” May’s website says.
Today, May runs an organization that highlights how social media impacts mental health. She and her team developed educational programs, advocacy initiatives, and research opportunities to raise awareness for how social media impacts us and what we can do to help.
“In one of our earlier days, there was a young woman from Bolivia who lost her brother to his battle with depression,” May tells CircleAround. “At the time in Bolivia, there was only one psychologist per 100,000 individuals. We worked with Gabi as an international ambassador to spark dialogue about mental health in her community, and worked with her to find local resources to equip other youth.”
“After working with her for two years, she gathered the courage to speak at a TEDx conference about her experience to empower other youth,” May tells CircleAround. “These are the moments that make the long days worth it.”
Studies have shown that social media usage in teens can increase suicidal tendencies as they become adults, but the warning signs aren’t always apparent. “Mental health is deeply personal and looks different for everyone,” May emphasizes. “In our research and work at #HalfTheStory, one of the greatest trends we are seeing is that more teens feel comfortable posting about mental health online, but they aren’t able to have the conversations offline to get the support they need.”
May tells CircleAround there are a few indicators that someone is dealing with serious mental health issues. Some of those indicators include:
Social Behaviors: If your child is consumed by social media to the point where they are socially withdrawn.
Tone of Voice: Look for a change in tone of voice or language that is unexpected and presents feelings of hopelessness.
Visual Content: Identify dark visual content (sad photos or dark content).
“Positive social media use starts with a clear intention,” May explains. “Quite literally, what is your ‘why’? Are you posting to create, connect, inspire change, or entertain? There are endless ways to elevate ideas, activism, stories, and catalyze local change. I wouldn’t be doing what I am doing today without sharing my story on social media.”
As a Girl Scout alum, May attributes much of her courage and strength to the support she got through the Girl Scouts organization. “It contributed to my belief that I could do anything that I set my mind to with courage, innovation, and a little bit of problem-solving along the way,” she tells CircleAround. “Girl Scouts was one of my earliest value systems and communities that helped me understand the power of community and service.”
She even credits her experience selling Girl Scout cookies for inspiring her entrepreneurship. “Twenty years later, my life is dedicated to service as a social entrepreneur, community builder, and champion for women through my work at #HalfTheStory. I learned at a young age that true fulfillment comes through community and service. I haven’t looked back since.”
Social media has helped foster closer connections than ever before, but it’s important to know that behind every selfie is a human with a larger story to tell. As social media continues to evolve and change, so does the advocacy work of May and her team.