Magda Szubanski AO discussed the negative impact of social media on mental health in her oration for the Violet Vines Marshman Centre for Rural Health Research at La Trobe University in November 2020.
The multi-award-winning actor is best known for her work in making Australia laugh for more than three decades. Aside from her theatrical work, Magda also played an important role in the marriage equality campaign.
During the early COVID-19 outbreaks in 2020, she reprised her role of Sharon Strzelecki from the comedy program Kath and Kim, producing a public health advertisement in a bid to encourage people to follow Victorian Government health advice on wearing masks. This commercial, and her support, attracted online trolling and social media attacks.
“Human beings are social creatures and during times of physical distancing and isolation, social media can be an invaluable tool for staying in touch with friends, loved ones, and the world,” Magda said. “Ironically, these platforms can also increase loneliness, anxiety and division.”
“I was proud that Sharon Strzelecki was the team mascot for Victoria. Most people loved the advertisements, but a small group of extremists decided to politicise and weaponise mask-wearing during the pandemic – and attacked me online.”
“Knowing when and how to stand up against the trolls was critical. I stood up and people supported me. Then one brave act led to another. It initiated a positive discussion about COVID-19 and the issue of internet bullying.”
Magda also talked about her journey to achieve positive social change during COVID-19 lockdowns and her work with Phoenix Australia (the Australian National Centre of Excellence in Posttraumatic Mental Health), where she is working to create a program to provide best practice post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) skills for disaster-impacted communities.
“It’s about creating trauma literacy, to help individuals, organisations and the community to understand, prevent and recover from the potential adverse effects of trauma," said Magda.
Professor Jane Mills, Acting Director of the Violet Vines Marshman Centre and Head and Dean of the La Trobe Rural Health School, said that Szubanski’s oration spoke to the aims of the Centre: working in partnership with communities to address the major challenges and issues that impact on rural health and wellbeing.
“Magda Szubanski is a committed social justice activist who demonstrates the importance of courage in creating social change through the arts,” she said. “We were privileged to hear her thoughts on how we can support each other through acts of kindness and compassion to improve rural health and wellbeing,” said Jane.