Worried about the role social media has in modern life? More and more information is coming out about the dangers of social media on mental health, particularly for young people. It is easy to see why so many experts and parents are concerned. According to Pew Research, seven out of 10 Americans use some form of social media. What’s more, the increase in social media use has happened quickly. The Pew study also found that only 5% of Americans engaged with a social media platform in 2005. By 2011, that number had grown to half of Americans.
This rapid growth is causing concern over how people engage with social media, how it affects their mental health, and what can be done about it. While some use of social media can be healthy, other ways of engaging with this new technology are decidedly harmful.
Ways Social Media Can Be Good
People are social creatures, and social media aims to foster connections with each other — whether that is someone down the street or on the other side of the world. Mindful use of social media can be a positive thing, even if it is used daily. For instance, when used regularly for the following reasons, engaging with social media apps can be a positive thing:
- Keeping in touch with family and friends who live in other states or countries.
- Discovering new friends or connecting with like-minded communities.
- Joining worthy causes and raising awareness on important issues.
- Receiving or giving emotional support.
- Finding a means to express creativity.
- Learning new information from reputable and reliable sources.
The issue arises when social media use is emotionally connected. An emotional connection to social media occurs when an individual is checking their social media apps obsessively, for fear of missing out or being disconnected from friends.
Social Media’s Harmful Effects
However, there is a downside to social media. The negative aspect of this new technology is especially evident regarding mental health, particularly that of young people. Multiple studies have linked excessive social media usage in teens and young adults to increased depression and other mental health issues.
For instance, two studies conducted in 2019, one in the U.S. and one in England, found that teens between the ages of 12 and 16 who either used social media for multiple hours per day or visited multiple times were at a heightened risk for poor mental health and well-being.
Another study of U.S. college students looked at Facebook in particular. That study shared that severe depression and anxiety disorders increased in college students with college-wide access to Facebook. Overall usage affected around 20% of college users negatively.
Finally, teen girls and members of the LGBTQ+ community appear to be suffering from increased adverse mental health outcomes. A fall 2021 report from the US Centers of Disease Control and Prevention report found that 57% of teen girls reported persistent sadness or hopelessness that year. Poor mental health experiences were reported by slightly more than half of LGBTQ+ respondents. The report also noted disturbing numbers connected to suicide attempts, with about one in five LGBTQ+ respondents saying they had attempted suicide in the past year and nearly one in three teen girls had seriously considered it.
The negative emotions reported by teen boys were just under 30%, not as high as the other groups, but still very problematic. The report did not directly link social media use to the increasing number of adverse mental health issues experienced by teens today. It is easy to see why many experts are making the correlation. While correlation is not causation, it’s understandable why many are linking the dramatic increase in social media usage among teens — technology that didn’t exist a generation ago — with these growing mental health concerns.
How to Safely Use Social Media
The reality is social media is a part of our lives. So, everyone — adults and teens — must find ways to use technology healthily to avoid mental health issues. The following are some tips to help safely manage social media use:
- Limit the time spent on social media platforms. Some platforms provide settings to help automatically do this on a smartphone.
- Think about the sites and profiles visited most frequently — unfollow them if they provoke bad feelings.
- Ask before posting something if the comment is one you would feel comfortable saying to someone’s face.
- Remember how difficult it is to take back or remove a post.
- Bear in mind that much of what is posted on social media may not be an honest or accurate representation of someone’s life or experience.
- Report any hurtful posts that cause you to worry about someone’s well-being.
If these suggestions aren’t working, it might be time to seek additional support in handling the overuse of social media.
Signs Social Media is Impacting Mental Health
How each person reacts to social media is not the same. If you are concerned that you or your teen may be experiencing mental health problems connected to social media use, there are signs to look out for, such as:
- Spending more time with friends online than in the real world.
- Making unfavorable comparisons to people viewed on social media.
- Experiencing any instances of online bullying.
- Being distracted at work or school by social media.
- Engaging with social media during any free time.
- Performing risky acts to get reactions on social media.
- Suffering from sleep problems, worsening depression or anxiety.
Reducing the time spent on social media appears to significantly impact mental health, according to a University of Pennsylvania study. The study did not share any conclusion on the optimum amount of time people could safely spend on social media without impacting their mental health, making any reduction in usage potentially improve feelings of depression, loneliness, and anxiety.
A licensed mental health and substance abuse intensive outpatient program (IOP) in Scottsdale, Arizona, Rising Phoenix was created to offer a safe, welcoming, and nurturing environment where clients are not judged but embraced throughout their recovery process.