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The Effects of Social Media on Mental Health

Tuesday, 14 November 2017 05:00  by Courtney B.

Social media like Facebook and Twitter have changed everyday life in many ways. Information and opinions from people hundreds of miles away are delivered to you in an instant. In many ways, though, social media is like a 24-hour a day soap opera. Once you are hooked, it is hard to turn away. However, spending too much time with social media can have negative consequences on your mental health.

Why Social Media Is Bad for Mental Health

There are some positive aspects to social media, like keeping in touch with friends and family who are far away. Social media also spreads information quickly, and when this information is true and factual, this can be an advantage. Use of social media needs to be carefully managed, though, because it can lead to practices that can adversely affect your mental health:

  • Comparing yourself to others — Social media makes it easy to compare your life to others, and that is not good for your mental health. As humans, we cannot help being somewhat competitive. We tend to judge ourselves by comparing our lives to other people’s lives. When it comes to reporting their “news” on social media, though, people tend to make their lives look better than they really are. The result is that you are comparing yourself to a highly polished version of a moment in someone else’s life, which can lead to feelings of low self-worth.
  • Using it as a way to escape — Many times, people turn to social media for a break — they are looking to get away from what they are doing for a little while. Their expectation is a relaxing, entertaining or recreational experience after which they will feel good. In reality, many people experience feelings of isolation and depression after using social media. The effect on mental health is the opposite of having an in-person social interaction.
  • Establishing a false sense of being social — Although using social media may appear to connect you with other people, it is a solitary activity and not social. Facebook, Twitter and the like simulate social interaction, but the result can be one of loneliness. People who use social media throughout the day tend to become sad or feel disconnected from the people in their lives.
  • Relying too much on the image — Social media platforms track the number of connections you have and in most cases display the number publicly. People who spend more time on social media tend to collect more connections or “friends.” The number of connections becomes a status and a means of judging how social you are. Having friends on social media, however, is not the same as friends in real life. Often, those who have many connections on social media actually lead a more anti-social existence — there is more to keep up with and more enticement to spend additional time with social media.

Be it Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, using social media excessively can increase your loneliness, and loneliness can lead to depression. The latest research by the UK Disability Charity Scope reviewed almost 1500 Twitter and Facebook users, out of which 60% felt jealous of their peers on social media, and 62% felt isolated.

Social Media and Mental Health Statistics

We are now seeing the first generation to grow up using social media, and we are better able to understand the effects on mental health. Some studies of mental health issues related to social media have been done, and others are still to come. There are some things we do know, though.

  • People with low self-esteem tend to be more active on social media. They use social media mostly for self-promotion. The National Health Service in the UK has identified an alarming trend among girls specifically related to social media use. They attribute stress and social media with a 68% increase in hospital admissions for self-harming behaviors. The increase in admissions among boys is only up 26%.
  • The increase in social media use over the last ten years in almost equal among females and males, but the negative effect on mental health seems to afflict females more than males.

Positive Effects of Social Media on Mental Health

While social media can lead to feelings of loneliness and depression, it can also be helpful in the right circumstances to people who suffer from those conditions, especially young adults. Social media can help to connect people with similar interests who might never have had the chance to meet in real life, whether due to geographical boundaries or lack of opportunity. Additionally, being able to provide opinions and participate in discussions in a group can help to establish a feeling of belonging. Social media also allows communication with people around the world, providing a means of social education.

The key to a positive social media experience is moderation. Limiting the amount of time spent on social media and balancing it with real life social interactions can help protect your mental health.

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