In the age of constant connectivity, social media has become an integral part of our daily lives. Whether it's scrolling through Instagram, sharing thoughts on Twitter, or joining groups on Facebook, these platforms shape our online interactions. However, as our digital footprints grow, questions about the impact of social media on mental health have gained prominence. In this blog post, we'll briefly explore the complex relationship between social media use and mental health.
Discrepancy between knowledge and experience: I've noticed that when in discussion, individuals are very aware intellectually that social media is highly filtered and a strictly curated output of perfection. Even when there is purposeful "imperfection", this is done perfectly and attention is drawn to it. However, the addictive nature of social media seems to create a disconnect between our more realistic narrative about it, and how it makes us feel, especially in our moments of vulnerability. We know the output is filtered and edited, and yet it can still make us feel inadequate or disconnected.
Social Comparison and Its Effects: Social media platforms often serve as highlight reels of people's lives, showcasing the best moments. Constant exposure to curated content can lead to social comparison, where individuals measure their own worth based on others' seemingly perfect lives. This phenomenon has been linked to increased feelings of inadequacy and diminished self-esteem (Popat and Tarrant, 2023).
The Filtered Reality: Filters, photo editing, and carefully crafted captions contribute to a digital reality that may not align with actual experiences. This disconnection between online and offline life can foster a sense of isolation, as individuals may feel that their own lives fall short of the idealised versions presented on social media.
Impact on Mental Health
Anxiety and Depression: Studies have suggested a correlation between heavy social media use and higher levels of depression and other mental health issues (Ulvi et al., 2022). Constant exposure to negative news, cyberbullying, and the pressure to conform to societal standards depicted online, alongside constant comparison against the "perfected" output, can contribute to mental health challenges (Popat and Tarrant, 2023). Interestingly, the systematic review conducted by Ulvi et al. (2022) found that studies which focused on the impact of Twitter and Instagram described the biggest negative impact on mental health.
Pressure to stay connected and attend every event: Social media platforms can intensify the fear of missing out, as users witness friends and influencers attending events, enjoying experiences, or forming connections. The pressure to stay connected and fear of judgement for attending/not attending events has been shown to impact adolescents mental health in particular (Popat and Tarrant, 2023).
The Positive Side of Social Media
Supportive Communities: Despite the potential pitfalls, social media provides a platform for the formation of supportive communities. Individuals facing similar challenges can connect, share experiences, and offer encouragement, fostering a sense of belonging (Popat and Tarrant, 2023).
Mental Health Advocacy: Social media has become a powerful tool for mental health advocacy. Celebrities, influencers, and everyday users use their platforms to destigmatize mental health issues, raise awareness, and encourage open conversations. Exploratory studies have found that individuals struggling with their mental health can turn to social media to share their personal experiences, find information about their issues and treatment options, as well as give and receive support from others facing similar challenges (Bucci et al. 2019).
Providing Education: Social media can be a great tool for providing education on topics like mental health, and when used constructively, could benefit many areas of wellbeing, including mental health.
Taking time for photos: It could be argued that perhaps in the age of social media, more people take the time to take photos of things they find beautiful or enjoyable moments, allowing them to revisit them later down the line. I know many people enjoy the photo memories that social media and phones provide. However, the flip side of this is perhaps disengaging from the moment in order to take a photo (as usual, everything has a balance).
Striking a Balance: Tips for Healthy Social Media Use
1. Mindful Consumption: Be mindful of the content you consume. Make use of the features that allow you to block, "not interested", unfollow etc. Unfollow accounts that trigger negative emotions and curate your feed to include positive, uplifting content. Taking a step back from social media for a few days or more, or recording when you do/don't use it and how it makes you feel, can help you to see the impact it has on you, and decide what relationship you'd like to have with it.
2. Set Boundaries: Establish time limits for social media use to prevent excessive scrolling. Designate screen-free periods during the day to focus on real-world interactions and activities. Iphone's in particular have a function where you can "lock" apps related to social media during certain time frames (e.g., before 9am or after 7pm), or they can "lock" after a certain amount of usage.
3. Foster Real-Life Connections: Balance online interactions with face-to-face connections. Prioritize spending quality time with friends and family outside of the digital realm. Be conscious of not spending time on social media whilst with friends or family.
While social media undeniably influences our lives, its impact on mental health is nuanced. By recognising the potential pitfalls and adopting mindful practices, individuals can navigate the digital landscape while preserving their mental well-being. Social media, when used thoughtfully, can be a tool for connection, support, and positive change in the realm of mental health.
Bucci, S., Schwannauer, M., & Berry, N. (2019). The digital revolution and its impact on mental health care. Psychology and Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice, 92(2), 277–297.
Popat, A., & Tarrant, C. (2023). Exploring adolescents’ perspectives on social media and mental health and well-being–A qualitative literature review. Clinical child psychology and psychiatry, 28(1), 323-337.
Ulvi O, Karamehic-Muratovic A, Baghbanzadeh M, Bashir A, Smith J, Haque U. Social Media Use and Mental Health: A Global Analysis. Epidemiologia. 2022; 3(1):11-25. https://doi.org/10.3390/epidemiologia3010002