What To Know About Social Media and Mental Health
June 30, 2022
The adverse effects of social media on mental health are so common there is a catchy slang term for it: doomscrolling. Doomscrolling, or doomsurfing, involves spending hours looking at negative news on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.
Research shows* 69 percent of adults and 81 percent of teenagers in the United States use social media. Social media use continues to grow, with many people using the platforms daily, up to several times a day.
It can be time-consuming. In 2020, Americans spent an average of 1,300 hours* per person on social media. Young users can spend hours a day on apps like Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok.
Effect on mental health
Spending hours on social media sites can be bad for physical and mental health. Individuals with low self-esteem may be at risk of adverse effects of social media. Highly edited photos and curated celebrity accounts can influence a user’s body image, for example.
“The lives presented on social media may not be reflective of the person’s real life and by trying to keep up with social media personalities, a person can further stress themselves because in essence you may be competing with an unrealistic expectation that was established on social media,” says Tarsha Jobe, a behavioral health supervisor at BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina and licensed professional counselor.
This can be damaging to vulnerable populations who may already have difficulty determining what’s realistic versus what is not.
“Social media can have a greater impact on certain individuals, particularly those who are easily influenced,” Jobe says.
Parents can help
For young people who are easily influenced by social media, it can be important for parents to play an active role in the child’s life. Check a child’s social media if they have accounts. Limit the amount of time they are allowed on these sites or applications.
“Have conversations with your child about life, coping skills and social interactions. Remind kids that everything isn’t always what it seems and that people can change their names and photos online,” Jobe says.
Remind young people you can’t trust or believe everything you read online. Also make sure kids know everything online can be public and cannot be easily deleted, she says.
Modeling good mental health practices can teach children how to cope when they experience adverse effects of social media. Start by having honest and open conversations about the things your children see or read in their feeds.
Beware of obsession
Social media can become an obsession. National conversations around certain events take a turn for the worse when users become consumed by it. For example, when a young woman disappeared in 2021, a collective of internet sleuths searched to find the missing woman, at times fanatically.
“There is a fine line between reality and fantasy in social media,” says Disha Benn-Peay, a behavioral health supervisor at BlueCross and licensed independent social worker-clinical practice. “Social media posts and influencers can alter perceptions, thereby impacting an individual’s reality. For example, obsessing over online incidents or topics can potentially lead to feelings of paranoia, which would negatively impact a person’s life off and online.”
The conversations, videos and photos available on social media can cause people to be depressed or anxious. Even though social media is meant to bring people together, it can leave people feeling isolated and alone.
“The mind is a fragile thing. At any time, any one of us can tilt over. We need to have a strong social foundation to tell us when to take a step back from social media,” Benn-Peay says.
The social good
Social media doesn’t have to be all negative. There are many positive aspects to internet platforms.
“On social media, people can grow and learn new things. It can be used to promote awareness for important issues,” Benn-Peay says. “Certainly positive things are out there, but it's knowing and learning that balance.”
Other helpful ways you can use social media include following mental health or wellness accounts. Use social media to engage in your interests and hobbies that bring you joy. Having diverse interests can be good for your mental wellness.
If you feel overwhelmed or stressed about social media, remind yourself of the good things you can do with the technology. Connect with friends and family you can’t see in person.
If you feel social media is affecting you in a negative way and you are struggling, disengage and focus on your mental wellness. You can find resources online.*
Here are a few other ways to improve your mental health around social media use:
- Know your triggers and your limits. If social media gives you anxiety or you spend too much time scrolling your feeds, cut yourself off. If you can’t do it on your own, find resources to help. For example, cellphones and apps come with built-in time management devices that will remind you to turn off the phone or stop scrolling the site after a set time.
- Set parental limits. Many devices offer parental safety options for children that allow adults to limit time and age restrictions.
- Enlist help. Talk to your friends and family about any issues you have on social media. Asking for help can be difficult, but it can make a difference. Have your friends check on you to make sure you are disengaging from social media.
- Go offline. Humans need social interaction. Instead of chatting through online apps, meet your friends in person. Plan a social outing that doesn’t involve the phone or social media. Put your phone down and talk to one another.
- Look for the positive. Rather than spending time online, reflect on things that are important to you. Use the time you would spend online to take a mindfulness break or journal.
“Disengaging is important on social media. Scroll down. Look at the posts. Get a laugh. Talk to your friends. Then move on,” says Jobe.
*These links lead to third-party websites. Those parties are solely responsible for the contents and privacy policies of their sites.
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