According to Mirman Lawyers, we are influenced by all the things that surround us daily, sometimes without even realizing it. For example, TV affects our perception of the world as do movies and entertainment in general, but what about social media?
There’s often a lot of conversation surrounding how much social media could affect us, including our mental health. Some feel social media has damaging effects on mental health, while others might say the opposite is true.
So what’s the deal with social media and its effects on mental health and sense of self?
Young People, Social Media and Depression
In a study in 2017 that looked at more than 500,000 young people in the eighth grade through the 12th grade, it was found that the number showing high levels of depressive symptoms went up by 33% between 2010 and 2015. During that same period, the suicide rate for girls went up 65% in the same age group. For more information check out this article.
Smartphones were initially introduced in 2017, and by 2015 92% of teens and young adults reported owning one. According to researchers, the rise in depressive symptoms correlates with the proliferation of smartphone use during the same period.
There was also an increase of 30% in the number of students seeking counseling services at colleges and universities, primarily for anxiety and depression.
Researchers feel that one of the biggest changes in the lives of young people and teens relative to older generations is that the time they spend connecting with peers in-person has gone down, while electronic connections have gone up.
It could leave young people feeling less emotionally fulfilled and more isolated.
A separate study showed that for young adults between the ages of 19 and 32, there was a correlation between how much time was spent on social media and perceived social isolation.
There was a study published in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology recently, and it found that people who used social media less were less lonely and less depressed. This study was the first to show a causal link between social media and depressive symptoms.
It should be noted that none of the study participants were expected to avoid social media altogether.
Researchers said they didn’t feel that this was an accurate depiction of the world we live in, so instead, the experimental group had their social media use reduced to 30 minutes a day, broken into 10 minutes each on Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat.
The experimental group had declines in anxiety and fear of missing out and less depression.
There are fewer direct impacts of social media as well. For example, social media can decrease concentration and also physical activity levels because of the time being dedicated to interacting on the platforms.
These are things that can in-turn lead to symptoms of depression.
Young people may be especially likely to sleep less because they spend more time on devices and social media and that can have a detrimental effect on mood. If you would like, read more here.
One team of researchers said that social media platforms and apps are hacking our brains. They are showing us constant streams of likes, notifications, and comments and that then cultivates positive feelings of acceptance.
That can trigger the release of dopamine in our brains, similar to how drugs affect the brain.
Then, when you’re not getting that positive reinforcement from social media, you may be left with feelings of anxiety and loneliness. The only remedy is to get back on social media, and that’s very much how the cycle of drug addiction occurs.
Another concept sometimes discussed is called emotional contagion.
This means that you might “catch” the feelings of other people on social media.
Emotional states can be manipulated through social media so that if you were to read something posted by a sad friend, you might then also feel sad.
Social media platforms use sophisticated algorithms to determine the kind of content you’re most likely to engage with, and it’s all part of an attempt to get you to spend more and more time on the apps.
Along with being linked to depression and anxiety symptoms, there can be another negative impact of social media at-play, particularly for young people.
When someone compares themselves to the carefully curated images on social media, it may reduce their self-esteem. This is especially true among teen girls, and it can lead to other mental health symptoms, including depression.
Influencers are always working on posting the best pictures in the most exciting locations, but it’s difficult for their audience to realize those photos include professional hair and makeup and also photoshopping.
Then, the people who view the pictures are comparing themselves to something unrealistic.
What About the Benefits of Social Media?
Of course, this doesn’t mean that you have to deactivate all of your social media accounts immediately and there is some evidence that suggests possible mental health benefits.
One example is that social media can be motivational and encourage people to live a healthier lifestyle.
No, you don’t want to compare yourself to someone who is unrealistically thin, but if you follow someone who regularly works out and eats a healthy diet, it might encourage you to do the same. It’s okay to see social media images and influencers as aspirational if they’re making good choices, and you understand that you don’t have to compare themselves to them.
It’s also possible that social media can provide much-needed social support and a sense of connection to people who might not otherwise have that.
There are also a lot of mental health and suicide prevention organizations that are expanding their reach through social media so they can connect with people when they need help.
Relatively speaking, social media is still in its early phases, so it’s difficult to know exactly what the long-term effects might be, but it is important to be conscious of the potentially negative ways it could affect you.