The Effects of Social Media on Mental Health

November 28, 2023

A woman on her phone looking upset, showing the symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder

The relationship between social media and mental health has never been more prominent.

The total number of people using social media platforms worldwide has more than doubled since 2015, with 4.5 billion people of all ages and nationalities staying connected through an average of six different platforms. Among internet users, over 90% use social media.

While social media was heralded as a tool to bring us closer together, excessive usage can contribute to addictive behaviors, anxiety, depression, feelings of isolation, and FOMO (fear of missing out). Read on to discover how taking a digital detox could deliver a shower of benefits without any meaningful downside.

Is Social Media Bad for Mental Health?

As social beings, human connections play a crucial role in our overall well-being, strongly influencing mental health and happiness. Firm social bonds can alleviate stress, anxiety, and depression, enhance self-worth, provide comfort and joy, ward off loneliness, and contribute to a longer life. Conversely, a lack of robust social connections poses a significant risk to mental and emotional health.

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In today’s wired world, platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, YouTube, and Instagram serve as tools for finding and connecting with others. While these platforms may offer assorted benefits, social media cannot replace genuine in-person human interaction. Face-to-face contact triggers hormones that alleviate stress, fostering feelings of happiness, improved health, and positivity. Regrettably, excessive engagement with social media, despite its intent to bring people closer, can lead to increased feelings of loneliness, isolation, and worsen mental health issues like anxiety and depression.

If an overreliance on social media is affecting your life and triggering emotions like sadness, dissatisfaction, frustration, or loneliness, it might be worth reassessing your online habits and striving for a healthier balance in the digital sphere.

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Social Media Effects on Mental Health

How does social media affect mental health, then? Given its relatively recent emergence, there is limited research on the long-term consequences, whether positive or negative, of social media use. Nevertheless, numerous studies have identified a strong correlation between heavy social media engagement and an increased risk of loneliness, anxiety, depression, self-harm, and suicidal thoughts. This risk is amplified in those who engage spend lots of time on social media.

Negative experiences associated with social media use may include any or all of the following:

  • Disrupted sleep patterns: A 2019 study highlighted the association between social media use and disrupted sleep patterns. Quality sleep is central to overall well-being, and research suggests that sleep disturbances contribute to negative mental health outcomes like depression and memory loss.
  • FOMO and addiction: Social media platforms can intensify the fear of missing out on enjoyable experiences or fulfilling lives. FOMO – a phenomenon that predates social media – can lead to heightened anxiety, reduced self-esteem, and increased social media use resembling addictive behavior. This compulsion may manifest as frequent phone checks for updates or immediate responses to alerts, potentially jeopardizing safety or real-world relationships.
  • Feelings of worthlessness or inadequacy: Exposure to manipulated images on social media can trigger insecurities about appearance or life circumstances. Even with awareness that these images are often curated highlights, the impact on self-esteem and satisfaction can be substantial. Comparisons to the airbrushed photos and success stories of others may evoke envy and dissatisfaction.
  • Social isolation: Contrary to expectations, increased usage of platforms like Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram has been associated with heightened feelings of loneliness. Reducing social media engagement, on the other hand, has been linked to diminished loneliness and improved overall well-being.
  • Depression or anxiety: Face-to-face contact is essential for mental well-being, and prioritizing social media interaction over in-person relationships may contribute to or exacerbate mood disorders, including anxiety and depression.
  • Cyberbullying: A significant portion of teens report being bullied on social media platforms, with offensive comments frequently made online. A 2020 survey of 6,000 individuals aged 10 to 18 revealed that roughly half of them had experienced cyberbullying. Platforms like Twitter can become breeding grounds for spreading hurtful rumors, lies, and abusive content, leading to lasting emotional harm. Research shows that teens spend up to nine hours each day online, with many of them becoming aware of this and expressing concerns about the excessive time they spend on social networks. This growing apprehension suggests a potential impact of social media on the mental health of users. Supporting this notion, a 2017 Canadian study found that students who spend more than two hours daily on social media are significantly more likely to rate their mental health as fair or poor compared to occasional users of social media.
  • Self-absorption: Continuous sharing of selfies and personal thoughts on social media can foster unhealthy self-centeredness, distancing individuals from genuine connections in real life.

Treatment for Mental Health Issues Caused by Social Media

Addressing mental health challenges arising from social media use involves a multi-faceted approach.

Digital detox

Temporarily reducing or eliminating social media usage – this is known as a digital detox – can offer a reprieve from the constant stream of information and comparisons. Establishing healthy boundaries with technology use allows individuals to reconnect with the present moment and offline relationships.

Professional counseling

Seeking the guidance of a mental health professional, such as a psychologist or therapist, can provide a supportive and confidential space in which to explore the emotional impact of social media. CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) is one effective modality that helps people identify and modify negative thought patterns.

Support groups

Joining support groups, either in-person or online, can create a sense of community and understanding. Sharing experiences with others facing similar challenges can foster a supportive environment and provide coping strategies.

Mindfulness and meditation

Incorporating mindfulness and meditation practices into daily routines can enhance self-awareness and reduce the impact of negative emotions. Mindfulness encourages living in the present, promoting emotional resilience.

Healthy lifestyle changes

Engaging in regular physical activity, maintaining a balanced diet, and ensuring sufficient sleep contribute to overall mental well-being. These lifestyle changes can positively impact mood and energy levels.

Establishing real-life connections

Actively pursuing in-person social interactions with friends, family, or community groups can help counteract the isolating effects of excessive social media use. Building meaningful connections offline fosters a sense of belonging and support.

Limiting exposure to harmful content

Being mindful of the content consumed on social media and unfollowing accounts that contribute to negative feelings can be highly beneficial. Creating a curated and positive online environment could indirectly improve mental health.

Educational programs

Understanding the psychological and emotional effects of social media through educational programs or workshops can empower people to make more informed choices about their online interactions.

Remember, anyone experiencing severe mental health issues should consult with mental health professionals for personalized assessment and guidance. The combination of therapeutic interventions and self-care strategies can contribute to a more balanced and positive relationship with social media.

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Get Treatment for Mental Health at Connections

We treat mental health disorders like depression and anxiety at Connections Mental Health in Southern California. We can help you or a loved one restore functioning and improve overall well-being, regardless of the mental health issues you are facing.

At our luxury beachside facility, you can engage with evidence-based treatment delivered by a team of passionate and experienced mental health professionals. You can also benefit from the support of a small number of peers battling similar conditions – we limit intake to six individuals at any one time to ensure that you get the personalized care you need. When you are ready to take further action and improve your mental health, call Connections at 844-413-0009 for immediate assistance.

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