How Does Social Media Impact Mental Health?
Is social media bad for mental health? The short answer is yes, it can be for some people. How social media affects mental health, though, really just depends on each individual person. For some, it might actually enhance mental health.
Human connection is known to reduce anxiety, stress, and depression. Socializing helps us learn to navigate and cope with life’s challenges, can boost self-esteem, and can help us avoid loneliness while increasing joy and happiness.
Today, many people rely on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and other social media platforms to connect and form bonds with others. That said, while this can often be an enjoyable and healthy experience, digital connections struggle to replace in-person interactions.
Ironically, given the very name of it, spending excessive time on social media can actually lead to isolation and loneliness. The latest research also shows it can exacerbate existing mental health problems like depression and anxiety. Young adults are especially susceptible to these negative effects. A 2019 study found that young people who consume social media for more than three hours have higher risk of mental health problems.
If you spend a lot of time on social sites and have been experiencing increased feelings of loneliness, sadness, frustration, or a general sense of discontent, now is the time to reexamine your relationship with social media. Use the information and tips we’re sharing here to modify how, when, and how much you use social media so you can find that healthy balance, because it is possible.
The Bright Side of Social Media
Social media certainly isn’t all bad. As we’ve already mentioned, for some, it can have a positive impact on mental health when used appropriately. Virtual social interactions aren’t as psychologically beneficial as face-to-face contact, but they still can help us stay connected with loved ones, ultimately increasing well-being.
Some additional positive effects of social media include:
- Staying in contact with family and friends, even those who live far away
- Increasing awareness about worthwhile causes and prominent issues
- Networking with people of similar interests and ambitions
- Sharing your opinions
- Offering a platform to promote and display creative efforts with others
- Finding emotional support during challenging or difficult times
- Meeting new people and forming new friendships
- Learning valuable information and researching
- Marketing a business or brand
- Expanding your reach
Social media can also help ensure people who live in remote areas have access to vital societal connections and information they might not otherwise be able to find. So, we admit, it’s not all bad, but there’s definitely a darker side we must also explore.
The negative effects of social media
Despite those numerous positive attributes, social media has some pretty distinct, and often severe, drawbacks as well. When looking at how social media affects mental health, it’s essential we look at both sides and really begin to scrutinize the unhealthy aspects.
“If someone tends to spend too much time on social media and starts to feel frustrated, lonely, sad, or dissatisfied, then it might be time to decrease screen time and find a healthier way to engage.”
Why is social media bad? Spending too much time on social platforms can create a repeating negative cycle. You may use social media more often when you feel depressed, lonely, stressed, or anxious. You might think (or convince yourself) that it’s helping you, making you happy, offering entertainment and letting you feel more connected.
However, excessive social media usage can create feelings of dissatisfaction, isolation, and inadequacy. These feelings may, in turn, cause or intensify anxiety, stress, and depression — those very feelings you might be trying to escape in the first place.
As symptoms continue to worsen, some people feel compelled to use social media even more, perpetuating a spiraling cycle. Negative effects of social media on mental health can include the following.
Fear of missing out (FOMO)
FOMO is a concept that’s been around a lot longer than social media. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and other platforms aren’t helping. Scrolling these sites and apps can trigger feelings that everyone else is living a better life than you.
When you feel like you’re missing out on so many good things, it can impact your sense of self-worth. It can make you feel anxious and lonely and can end up causing you to use social media even more.
Posting countless selfies and expressing your personal thoughts about every possible social situation can lead to an unhealthy sense of self. This type of self-absorption can put distance and drive a wedge between you and others in your life.
Body image issues
Body image issues are another negative effect that’s been gaining traction in recent studies. Recent research has found a trend so disturbing amongst young (primarily) women who use social media filters, a new term has been coined: Snapchat dysmorphia. While it’s not (yet) a mental health diagnosis, Snapchat dysmorphia occurs when people compare their actual appearance to filtered (altered) selfies.
Snapchat dysmorphia describes the deep-rooted feeling of wanting to change physical features to match filtered images. Feelings of dissatisfaction and unhappiness can surface as a result of the intense focus now being placed on — hear this: perceived — flaws.
The phenomenon has gone so far that plastic surgeons are now noting a striking uptick in people coming in for cosmetic surgery to alter their physical appearance to look more like a filtered depiction of themselves.
Depression and anxiety
Humans are social creatures by nature. We require connections in order to maintain mental health. Studies show that eye-to-eye contact with a loved one quickly reduces stress, regulates heart rate, and can reduce pain and inflammation.
The more social media interactions you have instead of human interactions can increase your risk of developing or worsening depression, anxiety, and other similar mood disorders.
Numerous studies have looked at the link between depression and social media use. Results strongly suggest that depressive symptoms are significantly higher in relation to more time spent and intensity of use on social platforms.
Research shows that nearly 60% of teenagers have been cyberbullied on social media or harassed online. Bullies increasingly use social platforms to attack, spreading painful lies and starting or perpetuating rumors that can cause victims long-term emotional scarring.
New potential mental health conditions
Various other mental health concerns related to social media use have come to light in recent years, including the not-yet-fully-understood correlation between tic disorders and the use of platforms such as TikTok. Psychiatrists have described the number of teenage girls developing uncontrollable movements as an “explosion of tics.”
We know that anxiety is a root cause of unintentional twitching found in tic disorders. However, more research needs to be done for us to have a full understanding of any role social media might also play.
For now, there’s concern that tic disorders can be triggered by watching others on a screen — there’s even a popular hashtag that garners billions (yes, with a “B”) of views: #tourettes, posted by teen girls looking for support and acceptance as they try to navigate sudden tics they’ve developed when using social media.