Sharing funny tweets, scrolling through your Instagram feed, joining a TikTok challenge, watching a YouTube Video, or taking a Snap chat picture.
These common features of social media apps are innocent and fun everyday activities. They not only entertain us, but also help us communicate, learn new things, share information, connect, and more. Modern humanity would be nothing without these apps. On the surface, they help people all over the world adapt easily to the increasing demands of an ever-changing world.
However, beneath the surface, social media is all of those and more. What happens when these ordinary activities become so addictive that they take over our lives? When does the line between social media and mental health begin to blur?
Impact of social media on mental health
In 2015, a study on the relationship between social media and mental health found that almost half of psychiatric patients worldwide spent considerably longer amounts of time on social media. Of the 58.4% of the world’s population that uses social media, about 25% of those who have more than one social media account feel the impulsive need to check them at least once every three hours to avoid anxiety.
Also, the rate of depression and suicidal thoughts among teenagers has more than doubled in the past decade, and an increase in social media usage is believed to be the prime culprit. Check out more alarming statistics here.
These statistics may not shock you. However, when you compare your social media behavior to that of people with social and anxiety disorders, you begin to see a correlation. Here are some of the similar behaviors.
- Spending more than six hours on social media every day.
- Withdrawing from family and friends.
- Lying about the amount of time spent on social media.
- Pausing to check social media between activities or conversations.
- Having an overwhelming desire to share things on social media.
- Feeling impulsive need to check social media to avoid missing out.
- Neglecting or losing interest in important aspects of daily life.
Social media addiction
Addiction is one of the numerous negative impacts of social media on mental health. Constant use of social media is likened to an addictive drug. Like a drug, you think a quick fix will help, but it only makes you feel worse and more addictive the longer you spend on it. Before you know it, you've spent 4 hours arguing on Twitter just because you wanted to check out a notification. This addiction steals time and results in low quality of sleep. Not only will you sleep later, but you will also sleep less and worse. Poor quality of sleep has been found to worsen and trigger mental health problems.
Let’s not even get started on low self-esteem and depression. Imagine waking up to an Instagram story of someone who is at least ten years younger than you, but who makes more money in a week than you do in a year. Or see your best friend from kindergarten posting the third car she bought in the same year.
Jealousy and envy trigger low self-esteem and you begin to believe that you're not doing enough with your life. Of course, most people on social media only show the glamorous sides of their lives, but the average human brain is not conditioned to consider that. Hence, when you close your eyes to the reality around you and only see the perfect life shown on social media platforms, low self-esteem and depression creep into your life to become your closest companions. Seeing filtered slices of someone’s perfect life would take you down a dangerous path of comparison and ultimately make you feel worse about yourself.
Another way social media takes a toll on an individual’s mental health is through Cyberbullying. A person who suffers from cyberbullying may experience emotional and psychological problems such as stress, depression, anxiety, violence, and suicidal thoughts. Also, frequent exposure to filtered and photoshopped images could lead to self-consciousness and a mental health condition called body dysmorphia.
Social media versus mental health will always be a sensitive subject, as many have lost their lives trying to navigate their way across the very thin and blurry line between them. According to an American study on the suicide rates among teenagers and young adults, suicide rates among teenagers have seen a significant increase from 2007 - 2017. The research found that the main reason for this increase is that social media has become a prevalent way of life. A way of life that could ultimately take the life of a person who just wanted to share a funny tweet, like an Instagram picture, or participate in a TikTok challenge.
After reading about these negative effects, perhaps, you are ready to remove all social media apps from your phone. Relax. You don’t have to burn your phone…yet. Here are some ways to protect your mental health from the dangers of social media.
First, put your phone down and get some sunshine! After reading this article of course. Set limits on when and where you use social media. Do not let social media replace your real life. Always remember that most people on social media only show their best lives, so don’t compare yourself to them. Don’t scroll through social media first thing in the morning or before going to bed. Get rid of negative content.
Remember, there are two sides to everything, so do not demonize social media. For a person who knows how to use it the right way, life gets easier and better. The positive aspects of social media far outweigh the negative.