What effect is social media having on young people’s mental health?

16 year old, Caoilfhionn, shares her thoughts on the amount of time we’re spending online

Written by Caoilfhionn Doran


According to a report featured on CNN, the average teen spends about 9 hours a day on media. This is probably the one single thing that takes up most of their day. Therefore, what kind of effect is this having on young people’s mental health? Is there a connection between mental health illnesses and social media? Are we over-using social media?

Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter are just some forms of communication we use today. Particularly young people. Whenever we attend an event, hang out with friends or have a cosy day wrapped in a blanket watching Netflix we feel the urge to post about it on social media. Why is this? Is this because we want everyone to know what we are up to? Is it because we want to have one of those idealised lives that we only see on social media? These thoughts are running through our heads and there is so much pressure behind posting the right photo and making sure it’ll be accepted by our online friends. 

Firstly, why do we use social media? There’s the traditional use of communication. But now, is there more of a psychological reason for our constant logging in? Some people may be able to say that they’re addicted to social media. Whenever they sit down on a bus or are about to have lunch they peek at their phones to see what’s happening on the online world. They’ve invented a scale now to measure whether you’re addicted to Facebook, it’s called the Berge Facebook Addiction Scale.

But why is it that we’re addicted to social media? A researcher at the Freie Universität in Germany said that "As human beings, we evolved to care about our reputation”. So, when we upload a photo we’re mostly uploading it for other people. We want others to react to what we’ve put up and our brain wants to receive “rewards” by having all our online friends like and agree with what we’ve put up.

 image symbolising mental health

Is this good for our mental health? We are constantly trying to impress others. We are trying to live up to these expectations people have for us. And what happens if we choose not to live the socially accepted online life? Quite often people have a negative response which can possibly lead to cyberbullying. This can leave young people insecure and anxious which can later develop into depression, anorexia and many more issues.     

But is this the only effect social media is having on our mental health or is there other ways it can affect us? With social media, you have the power to post whatever you want. This can be related to any topic under the sun. Unfortunately, some people do not have a filter when it comes to posting or they simply don’t think of the effect it will have on others. Some articles that you read online can really sink into your mind and that thought can linger for an extremely long amount of time. This is very dangerous for young people’s mental health because you really don’t know how certain things will affect others because no two people are the same.

There have been studies proving that the use of social media makes us miserable. Researchers from the University of Michigan adopted an "experience sampling”. They asked 82 Facebook users 5 questions about their mood over 14 days. When they spent more time on Facebook their moods began to get worse and when they interacted more with others in real life they felt better over time.

But is there a way we can use social media to help young people with mental health issues? Of course! We can help raise awareness for problems and inform people on all the different kinds of mental health issues.

We just need to be careful that we’re taking care of ourselves by not spending too much time online. We can turn off our phones now and again (don’t worry I promise the internet will still be there when you turn your phone back on again). Make sure not to post stuff because others want you to and not to look for acceptance from others because not everyone will always agree with you, which is ok.  

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