Effects of social media on mental health

smartphone bullying, stressed child.jpeg

For many of us, social media has become an instrumental part of everyday life. We use it to talk to our friends, keep up with our acquaintances, update people on our lives, and learn what’s going on in the world. It has become so intrinsically linked with so many spheres of our lives that most of us couldn’t imagine going back to a time when the only way to stay in touch was to write, call, or meet someone in person. But for all the benefits we get from the widespread use of social media, there are also some serious consequences. Some are obvious to everyone, while others only become clear when we look at the bigger picture. For that reason, we’re going to look at the effect that social media can have on our mental health.

Cyber Bullying

The vast majority of parents and young people are aware of the increasing concerns and conversations that revolve around cyber bullying, but may not realise how prominent the problem really is. Around half of teenagers have experienced cyber bullying, with up to 25% experiencing it regularly. This victimisation is directly related to lower self-esteem and an increase in suicidal thoughts in young people. Considering that only about 10% of victims tell their parents about the bullying, it is important for parents to initiate the conversation. Another crucial fact to be aware of is that 75% of students have admitted to cyber bullying someone else, so parents need to ensure that their children understand that this behaviour is unacceptable and will have serious consequences.

Tacklebullying.ie is a forum for young people in Ireland to find peer support or speak anonymously with bullying experts, so let your children know that this service is available to them should they ever need it.

Feelings of Inadequacy

Although the media has played a major role in the increase of negative self perception for decades, particularly in terms of body image, the rapid growth of social media platforms such as Instagram has led to these feelings becoming alarmingly common. The UK’s NHS has found that the number of teenagers with eating disorders such as anorexia or bulimia has doubled in the last 3 years, and countless studies have proven that there is a direct correlation between time spent on social media and the risk of developing these disorders.

But it has also been observed that these feelings of inadequacy extend beyond our physical appearance and into our perceptions of our lives as well. As social media allows us to stay in touch with more people than ever before, we are constantly comparing ourselves to where we are in our lives compared to them. Additionally, people end up “chasing likes” in a bid to, as they see it, earn approval from their peers. The most important thing to bear in mind with regards to this is that everyone is doing the same thing: trying to present the best version of themselves. Comparing ourselves to the social media versions we see of other people is a fruitless endeavour, as these are always highly censored, unrealistic versions of those people. Additionally, becoming overly-concerned with how we will be perceived by others will only set unattainable standards for ourselves. For more on this topic, see our recent blog on Addiction to Selfies.

Effects on Life

Facebook is by far the most popular form of social media in Ireland, with 2.4 million Irish people using the social media site each month, and 1.8m each day. About 40% of Facebook users log on multiple times a day, which leads to the problems outlined above. But there are other, less obvious ways in which our lives are affected. A study by the University of Michigan found that people who use Facebook more often are less happy than those who use it sparingly or not at all. Other studies have found that our obsession with social media leads to “Fear of Missing Out”, which is when we are reluctant to make any commitments in case a better offer comes along beforehand, which leads us to be less social. Overuse of social media also makes us less productive, which is why so many places of employment forbid its use.

Studies have also found that using our phones in bed makes it harder for us to fall asleep because of the blue light that phones emit. This makes us less likely to fall asleep, which in turns makes us more likely to keep browsing. Many phone manufacturers are now looking to address this problem.

Although the negative effects that social media can have on mental health have been proven time and time again, every person is different, so there are no blanket rules or approaches that can be taken other than limiting the amount of time you allow yourself to spend on social media. That being said, it is also important to remember that social media is not the real world or even a view of the real world, but more of a photo of the world taken through a rose-coloured lens. Regardless of whether you believe social media has negatively impacted your life or not, reducing the amount of it is unlikely to do you any harm.

David Clarke