The Impact of Social Media on Mental Health

 

It’s hard to think of anything in recent years that has impacted our lives as profoundly as social media. In the roughly 30 years since early social-media platforms such as MySpace and Facebook staked their claim, we have been able to connect with people from anywhere in the world. We can share our thoughts and ideas to a wide audience instantly and at any time of the day or night—for better and for worse.

While social media has broken down the barriers of geography and time, providing us with unfettered access to people, information, and ideologies 24/7 and 365, that freedom has also distorted our thinking and perceptions and impacted our mental health.

If you or a loved one is struggling with substance use or a mental health disorder that has been exacerbated by exposure to social media, Immersion Recovery Center can help. Professional treatment is critical to the recovery process and is available at our comfortable, modern facility. Offering addiction and mental health treatment in Delray Beach, FL, Immersion Recovery Center provides individual, family, and group therapy, as well as multiple levels of care, including inpatient and outpatient programs. Contact us today to learn more and to explore how we can help you and your family overcome addiction.

Statistics on Social-Media Usage

Social-media use is pervasive in our lives. According to a study conducted by the Pew Research Center, 72% of people in the United States reported using some type of social media in 2021. In that same year, 4.3 billion people—more than half of the world population—had a social-media account and spent an average of 2.5 hours per day on social-media platforms.(1)

According to an article published in ScienceNews, teens reported the following social-media usage:(2)

  • TikTok—66%
  • Instagram or Snapchat—60%
  • Facebook—30%

Another survey showed a marked usage difference between girls and boys, with the former spending about 3.4 hours per day on social-media apps compared to 2.1 hours for boys.(2)

Clearly, regardless of demographics, geography, and myriad other factors, social media seems to be ingrained in everyday life.

Effects of Social Media on Mental Health

While social media connects people, that access can come at a cost. Studies cited in ScienceNews show that an increasing number of teens, especially girls, are showing signs of depression and other mental health issues.(3)

Comparison & Self-Esteem Issues

Social-media users tend to share only the most interesting, upbeat, attractive aspects of their lives, a fact that can be easy to forget as we scroll through the endless posts of fancy vacations, designer clothing, beautiful homes, flawless makeup, gorgeous hair, and perfectly toned bodies. Everyone seems to be more attractive and have a better life than us, even though they likely still face the same challenges we do. But this endless stream of glamorous images makes it easy for us to feel like we don’t measure up and never will, eroding self-esteem and confidence.

Cyberbullying & Online Harassment

There have always been people who think it’s OK to make fun of, insult, harass, and intimidate others for all kinds of reasons. Still, social media has brought this mean-spiritedness and torment to another level.

The physical distance created by social media makes it easier to dehumanize others and say and do things one might not have the courage to do in person. Bullies can post videos of their targets being assaulted, ridiculed, or otherwise humiliated for literally the world to see. People can overrun another’s social-media page, leaving negative comments or spreading misinformation.

Becoming a target of such attacks can cause anxiety, isolation, and depression. In extreme cases, some targets have been driven to suicide to escape from the persecution.

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Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) & Social Isolation

Social media can also give users a case of fear of missing out (FOMO). Seeing posts about seemingly exciting events you could not attend or weren’t invited to can leave you feeling lonely and invisible. You can feel excluded from a social circle you wish you were part of or exiled from one you used to belong to—all for some unknown infraction of a social code. Such rejection can lead you to question your friends’ loyalty and your own self-worth.

Mental Health Disorders Associated with Social-Media Use

An article in the Cureus Journal of Medical Science defines mental health as “a state of well-being in which people understand their abilities, solve everyday life problems, work well, and make a significant contribution to the lives of their communities.”(4) Prolonged use of and negative experiences with social media can lead to social isolation and eroded self-esteem, both of which negatively affect mental health.

This in turn can further erode an individual’s sense of well-being and cause them to withdraw from supportive communities that provide a sense of worth. A number of studies indicate that the continued use of social-media platforms may be related to signs and symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress.(4)

Anxiety & Depression

According to several studies that examined the use of social media, anxiety and depression were the most commonly identified outcomes, with leading risk factors being time spent, activity, and addiction to social media.(4)

Depression and other psychological problems were likely to occur in users of multiple social-media sites, as well as those who played online games or spent an excessive amount of time texting and otherwise using mobile phones. Symptoms of major depression are common among those who spend most of their time in online activities and performing image management on social-networking sites.(4)

Eating Disorders & Body Image Concerns

Constant exposure to thin ideals and messaging around perceived physical flaws can compound the insecurities of those unhappy with their appearance, leading to disordered eating behaviors and excessive exercise. 

Young women are especially vulnerable to this toxic messaging, often leading them to become preoccupied with food and weight. Some may withhold food or adopt a diet that is not nutritionally sound. Others consume homemade remedies that are purported to burn fat but have no scientific evidence of working. Still others may be driven to binge eating after a prolonged period of deprivation or in frustration over never being able to obtain a false ideal. All of these behaviors can have psychological and physical impacts.

Sleep Disturbances & Addiction

From time to time, many of us have stayed up past our bedtimes, scrolling through endless social-media posts. This activity may seem harmless, but it has been found to have a serious impact on our well-being.

Insights from the Nature and Science of Sleep journal indicate that social media at night may stimulate the brain when we need to be winding down for the night.(5) Research from 2019 also shows that people who use social media, particularly at night, tend to go to bed later, get less sleep, and have poorer quality sleep than those who do not consume social media in the evening.(6) 

Another entry in the Nature and Science of Sleep Journal indicates that a lack of sleep can have both long- and short-term consequences, making us less able to perform the next day and causing mood changes, memory issues, weakened immunity, and even high blood pressure and diabetes.(7)

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Strategies for Healthy Social-Media Use

Like so many aspects of life, social media has both positive and negative characteristics. We can use social networks to stay in touch with family and friends and find people who share similar interests, to name a few. 

If used wisely, social media can enhance and expand our lives as long as we keep from falling into addictive practices and allowing them to take over our lives.

Tips for Using Social Media Well

To ensure social media is a communication tool as opposed to a mental health hindrance, consider employing any or all of the following strategies.

  • Purge negativity. Take a few days to note the kind of content that seems to affect your mental health negatively. Then, be selective about the people and organizations you follow.
  • Minimize unhealthy use. Think about why you turn to social media. Then try to minimize unhealthy use and identify behaviors that address your needs more effectively.
  • Assess time-of-day considerations. Consider when you use social media and how it affects the rest of your life. For instance, checking your favorite apps first thing in the morning may set a negative tone for the day. And, as noted above, evening use could disrupt your sleep. Adjust time-of-day use to minimize negative impact.
  • Limit use. Limit the time you spend on social media by setting a timer or installing an app on your phone or computer that tracks how long you’ve spent on a networking site.
  • Minimize access. Leave your phone in another room when you go to bed to alleviate the temptation of scrolling when you should be sleeping. Or, consider placing your phone in a drawer in your room, out of reach but within earshot, so you can hear it ring or hear your alarm in the morning.

Cultivating Offline Connections & Hobbies

A great way to keep your social-media use in check is to find interesting and fun activities that don’t involve being online. Consider the following options:

  • Organize a fun outing with friends or fulfilling solo activities
  • Take an in-person class that interests you
  • Keep an interesting book by your bed or in your bag or backpack to read instead of going online
  • Watch YouTube videos or listen to podcasts on topics that interest you

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Social media can enhance our lives and open us to worlds we never thought possible. Still, it can also have a detrimental effect on our mental health, leading to depression, anxiety, and more. 

If you need assistance with your emotional well-being or substance or alcohol misuse,  Immersion Recovery Center, a dual disorder and addiction treatment facility in Delray Beach, FL, can help. Our team of caring medical, clinical, mental health, and recovery professionals have decades of combined experience to help you heal physically, emotionally, and spiritually. 

Behavioral health and substance use disorder treatment are not one-size-fits-all solutions, and we are dedicated to helping you find the treatment option that makes the most sense for your unique clinical needs. Contact us today to begin your recovery journey.

  1. Pew Research Center. Social Media Use in 2021. Available from: https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/2021/04/07/social-media-use-in-2021.
  2. ScienceNews. Social Media Harms Teens’ Mental Health, Mounting Evidence Shows. What now? Available from: https://www.sciencenews.org/article/social-media-teens-mental-health
  3. ScienceNews. Boys Experience Depression Differently Than Girls. Here’s Why That Matters. Available from: https://www.sciencenews.org/article/boys-experience-depression-differently-girls.
  4. Karim F, Oyewande AA, Abdalla LF, Chaudhry Ehsanullah R, Khan S. Social Media Use and Its Connection to Mental Health: A Systematic Review. Cureus. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7364393/#REF8.
  5. Rafique N, Al-Asoom LI, Alsunni AA, Saudagar FN, Almulhim L, Alkaltham G. Effects of Mobile Use on Subjective Sleep Quality. Nat Sci Sleep. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7320888.
  6. Sleep and Technology. Understanding Links Between Social media Use, Sleep, and Mental Health: Recent Progress and Current Challenges. Available from: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s40675-019-00148-9.
  7. Medic G, Wille M, Hemels ME. Short- and long-term health consequences of sleep disruption. Nat Sci Sleep. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5449130.

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Susan-Shirley

Reviewed for accuracy by :

Serving as the Inpatient Clinical Director at Immersion Recovery Center, Susan will work directly with staff members, clients, and family members to ensure the clinical program remains as effective and individualized as possible. Susan is no stranger to the fields of behavioral health and addiction. She has over 25 years of experience, working in an inpatient setting, an outpatient setting, acute stabilization and nearly all other settings in the realm of addiction recovery.