The Impact of Social Media on Mental Health
Social media can be a valuable source of information, news, and community connection. But it can also be a source of anxiety, depression, and loneliness.
When people use social media, they activate their brain’s reward center and receive a dose of dopamine. This reinforces the behavior, making them come back for more—like a slot machine, a cigarette, or an addiction to chocolate.
Researchers define social media addiction as a person becoming preoccupied with or obsessed with their use of a particular online social network and spending so much time engaging in that activity that it interferes with their daily life, including work and relationships. In addition, compulsive use of social networks can lead to negative health outcomes including psychological distress, depression, and even suicidal thoughts.
Social networking sites offer a unique opportunity to facilitate access to an informal peer support network for individuals with mental illness. However, further research is needed to explore how these interactions impact intentions to seek care, illness self-management, and clinically meaningful outcomes in offline contexts. In addition, it is important to understand the perspectives of ethnic and racial minority communities on the role that social media can play in their access to mental health services (Torous et al. 2019).
Individuals with mental illness often have limited social interactions outside of the home and can experience high rates of loneliness. However, recent studies have found that individuals with mental disorders are using social media to form connections and connect with others online at rates similar to those of the general population. In one study, adolescents and young adults with psychotic disorders and mood disorders reported using social media as their most frequent digital activity and spending more than 2 h per day on these sites (Birnbaum et al. 2017b).
In addition, online social interactions do not require the use of non-verbal communication cues that may adversely affect individuals with psychotic symptoms and may overcome deficits in face-to-face interaction associated with hallucinations and other psychiatric disturbances. This can make social media a potentially valuable resource to those with severe mental illness, particularly in regions where public mental health services are underfunded and underresourced.
However, as with other aspects of life, moderation is key. When used in excess, social media can have a negative impact on mental health symptoms, expose individuals to hurtful content and hostile interactions, and result in serious consequences for their daily lives including threats to employment and relationships.
Whether it’s looking at the latest celebrity death, natural disaster, or political turmoil, social media users can be exposed to bad news constantly. Heavy social media users (who log in for multiple hours a day or more) are at a higher risk of depression, anxiety, loneliness, and even suicidal thoughts.
Social media has also become a place to seek and share information about mental health, and it’s a popular platform for people seeking support. However, it is important to note that not all social media is created equal. For example, a study that restricted participants’ access to Facebook found that they experienced less severe depression than those who used the platform freely. It is thought that the reduced exposure to “bad news” may have been a factor, as well as the fact that the participants became more cognizant of how much time they were spending on social media.
In addition, many experts believe that social media can actually worsen symptoms of depression and anxiety. This is because the platform can cause people to compare their own lives with those of others, which can lead to feelings of sadness and inadequacy. This, in turn, can trigger more negative emotions, leading to a vicious cycle.
A 2015 study found that teens who participated in social media comparison and feedback-seeking reported declines in life satisfaction, while those who just passively viewed the content of others didn’t experience these declines. However, it isn’t clear if this is because the latter group was just viewing other people’s posts rather than actively engaging in social media activity themselves.
While more research is needed, it’s important to recognize that social media can pose a threat to your mental health, particularly if you have existing conditions like depression or anxiety. If you’re concerned about your social media usage, talk with a healthcare provider or campus health center professional. They can screen you for depression and anxiety and recommend a treatment plan that’s right for you. – Christine Stabler, MD, is a Family Medicine physician at LG Health Physicians Women’s Internal Medicine and a graduate of Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University.
Body Image & Mental Health
Social media is a popular source of information and a platform for sharing experiences. As such, it has the potential to be a valuable resource for individuals with mental health concerns. However, it is important to recognize that there are risks associated with the use of social media as well.
Many people who use social media can feel pressure to appear perfect. This pressure can contribute to an unhealthy body image and lead to feelings of inadequacy. In addition, constant exposure to images of others’ perfect lives can exacerbate feelings of envy and jealousy. These feelings can have a negative impact on one’s mood and self-esteem, which can then fuel the need for even more time on social media.
In addition, the near-ubiquitous nature of social media platforms offers novel opportunities to assess the onset and manifestation of mental illness symptoms and disease severity more rapidly than traditional clinical assessment methods. This is known as digital phenotyping and involves the use of computational methods to classify an individual’s emotional state in their online posts.
For example, it is possible to determine whether or not an individual is experiencing a high level of anxiety based on the language used in a post. It is also possible to measure the occurrence of depressive symptoms by reviewing the frequency and intensity of a person’s posts over a period of time.
Individuals with mental health issues can access support through the use of social media. Studies have found that individuals who discuss their mental health concerns in online communities often receive helpful and reassuring feedback. Additionally, they can connect with other individuals who have similar issues and seek advice from these individuals.
Finally, social media can be a great tool for individuals to connect with family members and friends who may not live nearby. Using social media can allow people to maintain relationships over long distances and share in the joy of each other’s achievements.
The benefits of social media can outweigh the risks, but it is important to identify a healthy balance for your own personal use. The next time you feel tempted to check your social media, ask yourself why you are using it. If the answer is that you’re lonely or bored, try to find a healthier and more productive substitute. For example, instead of browsing your feeds, go for a walk or make plans with a friend.
Your Child’s Mental Health
If your child is spending too much time on social media and it is causing them distress, talk to them about it. Make sure they know that mental health is just as important as physical health and that symptoms like anxiety, depression, ADHD, and OCD are normal, just as headaches or a stomachache are. Help them understand that these symptoms are due to changes in the way their brain works and, just like a headache, they can be treated with medication or behavioral support.
Encourage them to spend time interacting with others in real life, not online. This will stimulate the release of hormones that reduce stress and promote happiness, good moods, and a sense of well-being. It’s also a great way to bond as a family. For example, go for a walk or take part in an activity together that requires some physical effort or creativity, such as painting or playing music.
It’s important to monitor your child’s social media use and encourage them to spend more time interacting with others in person. This will help to reduce their social isolation and prevent them from becoming dependent on others for validation or self-worth, which can be damaging to their mental health.
For youth ages 10 to 17 who reported major depressive symptomatology, they were more than 3 times more likely to have experienced social media harassment compared to those with mild or no depressive symptoms (Ybarra 2004). Encourage your child to explore a variety of interests and find hobbies that involve real-world interaction. Physical activities like exercise are great for relieving anxiety and stress, as well as promoting positive moods. It’s a great way to get your kids off of their screens and into the outdoors, building friendships and connections that will improve their overall mental health.
Many adolescents and young adults with mental health conditions, including schizophrenia spectrum disorders, report using social media frequently (Gay et al. 2016). For some individuals, these platforms may be a form of naturally occurring peer support. For instance, in a study of young people with schizophrenia spectrum disorders, participants who used YouTube reported that it was one of their favorite places to communicate with peers and that these interactions helped them to feel more connected to other members of the community (Torous and Keshavan 2016).