Social media users have grown exponentially in number since the invention of the smartphone. Current Pew Research Center data shows the number of social media users in the country has gone from 5% in 2005 to 72% in 2021.
Many people use their favorite social media platforms to catch up on local and global news, chat with friends and family and keep up with the latest celebrity gossip. Social media has made communication simple, keeping loved ones connected over long distances via voice and video call services.
However, with an increase in social media use, there has also been a significant decrease in mental wellbeing. Peer-reviewed studies have shown a clear connection between time spent scrolling on social media sites and an increase in reports of loneliness and depression.
It is therefore of important to understand the relationship between social media use and heightened feelings of unworthiness, depression, and FOMO (fear of missing out).
What to Know About Social Media and Mental Health
The invention of social media is a result of humankind’s natural instinct to connect with those around them.
As social creatures, humans crave connection. A healthy social network can alleviate stress and increase life satisfaction and productivity. Mental health wellness professionals even recommend socializing and spending face-to-face time with family members and others in our social circles. Therefore, it is not surprising that many people, especially young adults, spend a good chunk of their day scrolling popular social media sites such as Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok.
However, recent studies show a disturbing increase in mood disorders, anxiety disorders, and even suicide attempts connected to excessive social media use. Isolation or lack of social connection can lead to serious mental health issues.
There is a clear disconnect between the intended use of social media as a tool for positive impact through online social interactions and the unintended mental health conditions caused by prolonged social media use.
How Social Media Affects Mental Health
The need to belong in society is a fundamental built-in characteristic of our human nature. This is especially true among younger, impressionable social media users. They check social media feeds throughout the day and even at night to keep up with trending topics.
It is common for social media users to get trapped comparing other people’s lives or achievements online to their own. They feel pressured to keep up with perceived social standards as depicted online.
Furthermore, people may feel the constant need to be as popular as their favorite influencers or go on certain vacations or buy the latest trends that they see on a daily basis. Failure to achieve this may lead to increased anxiety and mood swings.
Additionally, not everyone on these platforms has the intent to make friends or share optimistic news. Some users may have undiagnosed or untreated mental illnesses, which may make them mean and/or aggressive. There have been many documented reports of people with untreated mental issues leaving concerning or threatening posts on social media platforms, and sometimes even physically carrying out threats.
Encounters with negative online users has the potential to leave lasting emotional scars. Being exposed to hateful comments online every time they log on to online social sites may cause social media users social anxiety.
Negative Effects of Social Media on Mental Health
Social media use has been linked to several mental health problems. Some of the most prevalent negative side effects of social media use include;
1. Unhealthy Comparisons
Every social media app offers a variety of filters for pictures and videos. These filters are fun but also detrimental to users unsatisfied with their facial features or body types. Teens are especially vulnerable because their bodies are at a crucial development stage.
It is common for people to compare their bodies with unrealistic and altered body proportions of models or influencers online. This makes their transition into adulthood unnecessarily stressful and may even lead to long-term body dysmorphia.
Highly filtered content on popular social media platforms shows a fun, carefree world. Spending day in and day out consuming content of people who seem to be doing much better in life may elicit jealousy. Jealousy leads to a vicious cycle of one-upping, robbing you of the joy of experiences with offline friends and in-person relationships.
3. Low Self-Esteem
Studies show that comments and “likes” on social media have a direct effect on users’ self-confidence. On sites like Instagram and TikTok, the number of followers is used as an indicator of how popular one is.
But for most young people on these platforms, garnering fewer likes or followers may be taken as a reflection of their worth. It is a warped way of perceiving self worth, and can induce feelings of inadequacy that may lead to depressive symptoms and increased risk of mental disorder.
Impact of Social Media on Young Adults
Young people are especially vulnerable to the overuse of social media. Born in the digital age, social media platforms are their ultimate form of communication. While there are many positive aspects of social media use for youth, such as maintaining a support system of friends online, the negative impact of social media on young people’s mental health is becoming an ongoing concern for many parents and public health officials.
One of the many ways social media affects youth is through sleep deprivation. The addiction to regularly checking social media late at night affects sleep patterns and results in poor sleep quality. Lack of enough sleep has negative effects on well-being and concentration.
Negative body image, especially in young girls, is another impact of social media. In recent years, there has been an increase in mini-documentaries on social platforms of women opting to undergo cosmetic surgeries. As a result, parents are worried that teen girls who are only starting to understand the changes in their bodies may be heavily influenced by these measures to attain the perfect body. Evidence suggests an increase in plastic surgeries due to social media influence. Consequently, impressionable young people may suffer from suicide-related outcomes because of a skewed self-image.
FOMO, or the fear of missing out, is mostly observed in young adults who spend a lot of time on social media apps. In the digital world, social media is a rich source of both local and international news and online drama. The fear of losing touch may cause young users to become addicted to checking their phones all the time to stay updated on every minute detail.
On a positive note, more professionals are using social media sites to raise awareness, meaning young people can access free resources on mental illness and adolescent health. They also have greater opportunity to reach out to experts for assistance.
Improving your Relationship with Social Media
To protect your mental well-being:
- Minimize the amount of time you spend chatting or scrolling online.
- Incorporate face-to-face interactions into your routine with real-life friends.
- Make an effort to be present and practice your social skills and try not to check your phone every other minute when having a conversation with a friend or family member.
Also, try to follow only pages that align with the values you are trying to cultivate in your life. You can unfollow certain pages or people to create a healthier experience on your feed.
When to Get Professional Support
Even with the best intentions, it may be hard to follow through with a plan to cut down on your social media usage. If your social media screen time is causing you negative feelings, seek the help of a certified behavioral health expert.
There are many resources online to help you understand your mental state. If unsure, you can take a quick online quiz to find out if you are depressed or stressed. In addition, there are a number of trusted resources online designed to help you manage if you are experiencing crisis.