Social Media and Mental Health

The rise of social media in its many and increasing forms means that we are more connected than ever. A recent article in the Independent suggested that in the UK, the average person checks their phone around 28 times a day – a figure which represents a huge amount of data being streamed directly to us. And that data has influence, whether we like it or not.

We can now access all sorts of information almost immediately. News stories hit our phones as soon as they happen, we can share the experiences of friends a microsecond after they have posted and we can communicate instantly from wherever we are in the world. Social media gives us information and insight and is an amazing invention in so many ways, allowing people to really connect and share each other’s lives in more meaningful ways. Families and friends can chat via Facetime, for example, and actually see each other as if they were in the same room.

But with all mediums for communication and interaction, there can be a darker side too. Social media, with all its advantages, can have a real negative impact on mental health too.

Ways in which social media can have a negative effect on Mental Health:

• We have all seen the filters used on social media such as Instagram and many of us may have ‘pimped’ our images so that we look slimmer, better cheekbones, have larger eyes and so on. It’s not difficult to manipulate images so that we present a slightly ‘better’ version of ourselves. Even if we chose to be more ‘real’, there is obviously self-selection behind the images we choose to reveal. Most people only put their best photos on social media – pictures which show us at our best… and of course, these become tools for comparison. This can often lead to us comparing our worst with everyone’s else’s best. This clearly preys on insecurities and can be really detrimental to self-esteem.
• Social media also fuels the concept of FOMO – or Fear of Missing Out. Because we post our best moments, we create an image of ourselves constantly having a great time. If you’re having a bad day and are faced with a photo of friends having, what looks like, an amazing time, then it’s natural to feel anxious or lonely. We all know that these pictures don’t give us the whole truth but in that moment, what we feel is exclusion and that is hard to deal with. In fact, Fear of Missing Out has been linked to intensive social media use and is associated with lower mood and lower life satisfaction.
• Anxiety about news events is a very real issue for many people. We can now access the news as it happens and while this communication has many positive sides, for people who are particularly anxious, this simply feeds that anxiety. Knowing that something is happening doesn’t necessarily give you the power to change it and the feeling that you are not in control can be debilitating for many people. Moreover, as we don’t often hear good news, this means that our view of the world can become very negative and biased.
• Studies have demonstrated that too much time spent on social media can negatively affect your sleep patterns and quality of sleep. This can have obvious effects on both your productivity and general enjoyment of life.
• Cyberbullying is now a huge issue. It causes emotional distress at the very least and has been responsible for suicide at its extreme. Bullying is not new, of course, but social media means that it can be done anonymously and on-line – in effect, you can now be bullied in the privacy of your own room (where previously you may have felt safe). Social media can enhance friendships and make communication easier – but it is also easier for predators (of all kinds) to gain people’s trust and then emotionally terrorise them or abuse them.

So how do you enjoy social media and ensure that it’s a positive experience for you?

• Firstly, allow yourself to have a digital detox every so often. It may feel that your world will end if you don’t keep up with what everyone is doing on Facebook or Instagram. It really won’t. In fact, doing something different (taking a walk for example) will feel great.
• Make sure your privacy settings are right for you – depending on your age, your job etc.
• Don’t accept friend requests from people you don’t know – stay safe. Remember that people can be whoever they choose to be on social media and a healthy amount of distrust is a good thing.
• Find some sites which only show you good news – find a balance between the positive and negative information that is out there.
• Use social media wisely – think of the consequences before you post, for both you and others.

Good luck ????