Does Social Media Affect Your Mental Health?

Does Social Media Affect Your Mental Health?
Anxiety, loneliness and fear of missing out: The online community has a lot to answer for when it comes to young people’s mental health.

What is social media?

According to Google definitions, social media refers to the “websites and applications that enable users to create and share content or to participate in social networking.” Sounds great, right? Who wouldn’t want to be constantly connected to people in every corner of the world 24/7? How come so many people’s mental health and wellbeing is affected by these platforms?
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Why is Social Media so Important?

Social media has grown rapidly over the past decade giving users a new form of human interaction. There are so many sites out there such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, Pinterest etc. These platforms can be very addictive. There’s an urge to check your feed. Whenever someone ‘likes’ your content, you gain instant gratification and dopamine (the chemical that moderates pleasure in the brain).

The Positives of Social Media

Human beings are social creatures. Being in contact to others can ease stress, anxiety, and depression, boost self-worth and prevent loneliness. Having a constant connection to the outside world helps you to stay up to date and connected.

On social media you can find new friends and communities who share similar interests. Those who use these networking channels say they are more emotionally supported through their online contacts. You can reach out or offer emotional support during tough times, or just learn from new groups of people.

The Negatives of Social Media

Social media gives people the ability to keep up to date with what their social circles are getting up to. Although this is great to keep you connected with family and friends, it also leads to FOMO (or Fear of Missing Out). Many people don’t enjoy seeing their peers having fun without them. It can be really upsetting when you think they are ‘living their best life’ while you aren’t.

Another problem occurs with the promotion of unreasonable expectations. Brands, Influencers, and even your Average Joe can use photo editing software to make the subject in the photo appear more ‘perfect’ than in reality. The photos lead to feelings of inadequacy in both life or appearance, giving people poor self-esteem and self-image.

It is also linked to heightened anxiety, depression and can have an impact on sleep and sleep quality! Spending time on social media can cause feelings of isolation or even cyberbullying. As it is “more addictive than cigarettes and alcohol” it’s a struggle to make sure users don’t become too self-absorbed.

#StatusOfMind

In 2017, the Royal Society for Public Health UK published a PDF report examining the positive and negative effects of social media on young people’s mental health and wellbeing. Their results found that 91% of 16–24-year-olds use the internet for social networking. Other noteworthy statistics include:

  • Rates of anxiety and depression in young people have risen 70% in the past 25 years
  • Cyber bullying is a growing problem with 7 in 10 young people saying they have experienced it

What Can They Do?

  • Introduce a notification to warn that you’ve been using social media too much
  • Identify users who could be suffering from mental health problems and offer support
  • Highlight the photos that have been digitally manipulated
  • Apply the Information Standard Principles (NHS England) to health information published via social media
  • Teach safe social media use during PSHE education in schools
  • Train youth-workers and other professionals who engage with young people in digital media
  • Carry out more research into the effects of social media on people’s mental health

What Can You Do?

If you’re spending an excessive amount of time on social media and lack real world interaction, you may need re-examine your habits. You shouldn’t let social media effect your school, or work, or sleep! If you’re feeling sad, dissatisfied, frustrated, or lonely try to find a healthier balance by using the steps below:

  • Use an app to track how much time you spend on social media each day and try to reduce your time online
  • Turn off your phone when you don’t need it to let you concentrate on the real world
  • Don’t use your phone (or tablet) before bed to get a good night sleep
  • Disable social media notifications so you won’t be distracted
  • Remove unnecessary social media apps from your phone
  • Don’t use social media to pass the time, do something productive
  • Spend more time with offline friends
    e.g. going to clubs, reaching out to friends, talking to strangers
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