Social Media’s Impact on Mental Health

What really lies behind the posts, re-tweets, and “likes”

Social media was created on the notion that a person could connect with another person worlds away in a matter of seconds. People could share their thoughts, ideas, and pictures with anyone at any time. Businesses would boom with new marketing strategies and people with common interests could connect more efficiently than ever before. Sounds inspiring and full of opportunity, however social media has grown to be dangerously crippling for mental health if used the “wrong” way.

Mental health complications such as depression, neuroticism, and anti-social behaviors are on the rise and find strong correlations with the use of social media outlets like Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Many people struggling with mental health disorders may look to these social media websites for help, searching for groups who share the same issues as them, looking for outlets to express their feelings (Instagram, tumblr), and finding a bit of comfort from posts that relate to the way they feel. However, social media could be fueling their struggle in more ways than one.

Medical News Today had reported in 2012, that a study suggested that Facebook use could feed anxiety and increase feelings of inadequacy in people. Constant comparison to the lives of others, the amount of “likes” one receives, and cyber bullying all have the potential to do detrimental harm to the self-esteem and mental health of users. The non-existent face to face encounters of young adults may also lead to anti-social tendencies and anxiety. Social media has paved the way for someone to stay in contact with people without actually having to make personable contact with people. Human contact is a vital part of a fully functioning human being. Social connections are extremely important for development and happiness. Social media has allowed people to mask themselves behind their cell phones or computer screens and essentially cut out a very important part of existence.

The Root of the Problem

Now, I cannot sit here and bash those who have created these social media websites, or blame social media for mental health disorders. This is not really the underlying problem. The issue begins with the users. We all have different intentions while using social media whether it is to share a family photo with a distant relative, or connect with a new friend from work, and even to let people know you are raising money for a good cause. These are the intentions that the creators of Facebook have for us as current users. Their mission statement reads:

“Facebook’s mission is to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected. People use Facebook to stay connected with friends and family, to discover what’s going on in the world, and to share and express what matters to them.”

However, Facebook is more recently known for bullying, explicit and offensive language and photos, “catfishing” (fake profiles), and even addiction. Researchers have now even created a psychological scale to measure Facebook addiction, called the Berge Facebook Addiction Scale (BFAS).

As Facebook users, but more importantly human beings, it is our decision and in our own control to post, tweet, like and share what we feel like and to choose good intentions in doing so. It is also within our power to look past and not take to heart the post, comment, tweet, or message of someone who is purposely trying to cause a negative reaction. It has become increasingly easier to “hide” behind a screen, fake name, and fake account and mentally abuse someone. As a population, perhaps we should reflect back on the mission statements of social media sites and ask ourselves if our intent to post is for the greater good or if it is purposely harmful.

The Reasons

Social media can be addictive. Think about how many times you log on to each site every day. Are you checking and re-checking? Do you get disgruntled when your post won’t load or when your internet connection is lacking? We are constantly in the know and searching for latest updates. We are growing accustomed to a world where everything is at your finger tips and we can find any piece of information within seconds. We are creating a world where our own social media antics are causing us to develop addictive behaviors, compare ourselves to others in countless ways (creating low self-esteem and self-doubt), develop anxiety and restlessness, and also giving way to cyberbullying, which has led to a number of suicides.

The constant reinforcement we get from “likes” and comments has left us wanting more. It seems like we are getting rewarded for our post or our picture. What is this really doing for your self-esteem? What feelings do you develop from these “rewards”? Perhaps more importantly, why are we internalizing these invaluable experiences of other’s opinions?

Take Care of Your Self(ie)

What can you do to protect your mental health while using social media?

* Monitor and limit social media usage. Take breaks from social media and realize you do not constantly have to know what is going on, who is doing what, and feel bad about yourself for not being involved

* Block or delete anyone who does not contribute to your profile(s) in a positive way. You hold the power.

* Unfollow any profiles or posts that do not contribute to you in a positive way. Why give yourself a chance to be angry or upset?

* Refrain from posting or commenting/tweeting anything when you are in emotional states such as anger/sadness/depression. Emotions have the ability to influence decision making. Take a step back from social media when this occurs, instead of posting something you may regret.

* Refrain from posting personal ventures that you may not want everyone to know

* Think before you act. How could your post/share/tweet/picture affect you, your family, and others?

* Refrain from “stalking” pages. You will only begin comparing yourself to others, which will lead to feelings of anxiousness, worry, and self-defeating thoughts.

* Do not take other’s posts personally.

* Remember there is a real world outside of social media. Live it and enjoy it. True human interaction brings more satisfaction than a screen.

* If you feel you suffer from depression, please seek the help of a professional.