Social Media is defined as online media that allows its users to communicate, share ideas and find information using the internet. Popular examples of social media include Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. On these sites, users can voice their opinions, share photos, interact with each other and find out information about the world around them. While Social Media has many positive aspects, it has been suggested that spending too much time online can increase feelings of loneliness and isolation leading to negative effects on user’s mental health, especially with anxiety and depression. One of the many reasons it is believed that social media is a factor in the rise in anxiety and depression, especially in young people, is because this rise in mental health problems correlates steadily alongside the rise in smartphone use.
Social media is an amazing piece of technology, with it we can reconnect with old friends, share opinions about current events, upload pictures of events in our lives and find information at our fingertips. But, there is also a darker side to social media, and our over-reliance on it can affect us in many negative ways. Here are some reasons why our social media use may be affecting our mental health and why we may need to re-evaluate how much we use it.
Online Relationships: Due to the nature of social media being online, our interactions with people are virtual, over a message or a comment, which is very different from what we did before social media. In past generations in order to have a conversation with a family member or friend they would arrange to meet up in person, whereas now we can just search their name, find their profile and type a quick message. While the latter may be easier and more instant this electronic connection is said to be much less satisfying for us than meeting up with a person due to that lack of physical contact. We feel happier after seeing someone in person, more content and valued. But due to the convenience, we are seeing more and more interactions move online which in turn leaves us feeling less satisfied and can contribute to feelings of loneliness and isolation and in turn affect our mental health negatively.
Comparison of Image: This is becoming increasingly common, social media users compare themselves to the images they see online, whether that be a friend, an influencer or a celebrity, which leaves them thinking negatively about their own looks and body image. This is especially evident with the social media platform Instagram, which has been shown by surveys to be the platform that young people have the most feelings of anxiety and depression after using. This is very problematic as the images that these young people are comparing themselves to that aren’t reality, many people edit their pictures to make themselves look more ‘attractive’ or ‘slimmer’, so users are comparing themselves to a body type which isn’t realistic and may not even be attainable. Another mental health problem that may see an increase due to this comparison is eating disorders, due to users comparing their bodies to an unrealistic standard and they then take on negative behaviours to try and attain it. This comparison culture is becoming very prevalent in today’s online social media and is a very toxic effect of social media.
Comparison of Lifestyle: Similar to the above point, social media users also compare their lifestyles to the lives of the people they follow or are friends with. They see people online doing things they wish they were doing, such as holidays, meeting friends, relationships and big life events and in turn, feel bad about their own lives if they are not doing the same. This in the long term can lead to feelings of loneliness and depression due to constantly feeling dissatisfied with their lives. What is important to remember is that social media is not always a true representation of a person’s life, it is more a highlight reel. People don’t post pictures of the negative aspects of their lives, such as them having bad days or experiencing negative events. You never truly can understand a person’s life by their social media feed. Social media is only an insight into someone’s life, not the full picture.
Sleep: Social media can be addictive, with every notification, friend request or follow we want to be online for longer and keep checking it throughout the day. Research has shown that around 60% of young adults are looking at their phones before they go to sleep and those who do so get on average an hour less sleep than those who do not use their phones at night. If we have less sleep we are more likely to have less energy the day after, feeling lethargic and too tired to do activities. This occurring on a regular basis we may find ourselves doing less in the day which may over time make us feel lonely, unmotivated and unhappy which are all feelings that may lead to having problems with our mental health. Furthermore, social media isn’t a relaxing activity to partake in before sleep, it can lead to feelings of stress and like previously mentioned, dissatisfaction with our own lives and body image, the last thing we can easily do with these feelings is getting a good night’s sleep.
Social Media while in many aspects is an amazing form of technology is increasingly having very negative effects on people’s mental health. This may be related to the amount of time people spend on social media, neglecting real-life relationships to be online or comparing their own lifestyle and looks to those they see online. When you can feel yourself being affected negatively by social media it is important to notice this and then change your social media habits. Social media should be an addition to your lifestyle, not the most important.
Further information and advice
ScienceDirect: Social media use and adolescent mental health
Child Mind: Does social media cause depression