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The effects of social media on mental health

The positive and negative effects of social media on mental health

Written by Megan Stonecipher and posted in news

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In this day and age, social media constantly surrounds us.  People are always on their phones or laptops updating statuses, posting pictures, liking things, and messaging back and forth with friends.  Although social media is extremely beneficial in several ways (i.e., self expression, communicating with long-distance friends, self-identity, emotional support, and so on), it does have a negative impact on mental health.  

Recently a study was conducted by the Royal Society of Public Health and the Young Health Movement, which surveyed nearly 1,500 young adults around the ages 14-24 from Northern Ireland, England, Scotland, and Wales.  For this survey participants were asked to rate 14 mental health and wellbeing-related issues for different platforms of social media.  The mental health and wellbeing-related issues consisted of items like: quality and amount of sleep, feelings of loneliness, bullying, fear of missing out (FOMO), anxiety, emotional support, depression, self-expression and so on.  

The results of the study showed that there are both positive and negative impacts of social media platforms.  Some of the positive impacts of social media platforms include, that it is great for making and maintaining relationships with people, self-expression, self-identity, emotional support, and community building.  While on the other hand, the negative impacts of social media platforms include issues like increased levels of depression and anxiety, poor sleep quality, dissatisfaction with body image, cyberbullying, and FOMO.  In general these negative impacts of social media are typically attributed to unrealistic depictions in posts that cause viewers to feel inadequate.  This feeling of inadequacy and low self-esteem can lead to the negative impacts that were just listed above (i.e., increased levels of depression, anxiety, body image dissatisfaction, and so on).  Social media can easily make people feel as if they are not good enough which can then lead to negative feelings and desiring to alter yourself or your life.  These negative feelings and the desire to alter yourself or your life is harmful to one’s mental health.  Additionally other research has found that the more often you spend on social media and the more social platforms that you are on can also lead to increase negative feelings and rates of depression and anxiety.  

Based on the results from the 14 health and wellbeing-related questions, the study went ahead and displayed the overall net impact of each social media platform on health and wellbeing.  YouTube was rated the most positive for health and wellbeing, followed by Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, and finally Instagram was found to be the most damaging for one’s health and wellbeing.  It has been noted by many that there seems to be a problem with viewing image content since both Instagram and Snapchat were rated so negatively and are social media platforms hugely focused on images.  

In terms of trying lessen the amount of negative impact from social media, the Royal Society of Public Health and the Young Health Movement are proposing a couple of ideas.  The first is having social media platforms keep track of the amount of usage done by a user and providing pop-ups stating that viewing more content may be harmful. This would most likely also help lessen the addiction that some people have to social media, and lessen the rate of depression and anxiety.  Another proposal is having social media platforms highlight when photos of people have been digitally manipulated (this includes photoshop and filters).  This would help with body image and levels of depression and anxiety.  

There is no way to know for sure if the proposed ideas will ever be put into action, so that is why it is important to be weary of your social media usage and the feelings it may be causing you.  If you feel as if you are constantly checking social media or are feeling anxious or depressed after viewing your social media, it may be important to take a step back from your phone or laptop screen and take a break from using social media.  It is also as equally important to spend time evaluating what you are putting on social media as well, as some content may be harmful or damaging to others.  Overall though, remember that it is most important to do what is best for your mental health and wellbeing.  

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Published June 13th2017
Last updated May 24th2018
Tags mental health social media health
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