Social media has gained incredible popularity in recent years. From the humble beginnings of Bebo, MSN Messenger and Myspace, to the viral trends on TikTok and Instagram, social media platforms have now become much more interactive and creative.
Social media and mental health are closely linked and there has been a lot of research in the area over the last few years.
This article looks at the impact of social media on mental health, both positives and negatives.
The evolution of social media platforms has been an amazing tool to connect people across the world. Previously, you’d have to handwrite a letter (young people won’t ever know the excitement of receiving the reply in the post!), pick up the phone, or send an email to your friends or family members in other parts of the country (or even in other countries!). However, now it is possible to connect with a few taps of a screen!
You can chat with your friends and family members, or join groups based on your interests to connect with people who you share things in common with. This can build a sense of community.
One study conducted on adults in New Zealand looked into the general relationship between social connectedness and mental health. Researchers found that connecting with other individuals can help to reduce feelings of loneliness and can lead to new friendships and relationships. Social connectedness is vital for good health, and people with limited social connections have poorer mental and physical health (Alexander K Saeri et al., 2017).
Another positive of social media is the speed and ease of accessing information and support. Some individuals may find it easier to reach out online as opposed to face to face or over the phone. Many mental health organisations have social media channels where they post information about their services, and helpful tips on managing different mental health diagnoses, like Mind or the Samaritans.
Platforms that are geared more towards visual content, such as Instagram and TikTok, can help to release stress if you use them in the right way. Follow accounts that share content that makes you smile and even have a giggle. Research shows that smiling and laughing can soothe tension, reduce stress and boost your mood!
Unfortunately, whilst social media can be beneficial in many ways, there are circumstances where social media can have a negative effect on our mental health.
In a representative study conducted in the U.S, it was found that compared to individuals who use 0–2 social media platforms, individuals who use between 7–11 social media platforms have a higher likelihood of depression and anxiety (Brian A. Primack et al., 2016).
Although this study did not directly control the variable of time, it did highlight a link between increased time spent on social media and the detriment of mental health.
Spending more time on social media means we are more likely to get into unhealthy habits such as lack of sleep and disconnection from the real world, which can negatively impact our mental health. In surveys conducted by the Mental Health Foundation in March 2020, 48% of adults and 66% of teenagers agreed that sleeping badly has a negative effect on their mental health.
A big negative effect of social media on mental health is the ease of comparison. We can often look at others’ social media posts and compare our own lives to theirs. We may think, “Why don’t I look like that?” or, “Everyone looks like they are having so much fun all the time while I’m sitting at home”. These comparisons can lead to feelings of inadequacy and jealousy.
In a study by Dr. Hanna Krasnova et al. 2013 which surveyed 584 Facebook users, researchers found that after using the social media platform Facebook, envy was the most reported feeling, with 29.6% of respondents citing it as a reason for frustration following Facebook use.
A term coined from the increase in social media usage, FOMO stands for Fear Of Missing Out. Studies have shown that many social media users experience FOMO and it has been linked to low mood and decreased life satisfaction. (Andrew K.Przybylski et al., 2013)
This short video highlights the advantages and disadvantages of social media, and provides some advice on what to do if you find social media is negatively impacting your mental health:
Ultimately, there are both positives and negatives to social media. It is important to identify how social media makes you feel and try to use it in a way that is beneficial to you. Unfollow any accounts that make you feel inadequate, that make you feel insecure or that bring down your mood. If you experience any bullying or other unwanted behaviour, block the account and report it to the social network.
Make a conscious effort to follow accounts that share content you’re interested in and that you know you will enjoy consuming. Join online communities based on your interests to build meaningful connections and chat with likeminded individuals.
Photo by Adem AY on Unsplash.