Does social media affect mental health? We’ve all heard of social media, and most of us use it on a daily basis. In the past decade, social media apps have sprouted and garnered millions of users, such as Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, and more recently Threads. As a collective, we have developed a fascination with the lives of our friends, families, and even our most beloved celebrities. It’s where most communication between friends and families takes place, mainly in the form of niche memes, photographs, or even voice memos. It’s the digital realm where hashtags, selfies, and viral videos reign supreme. Social media has become integral to our lives, connecting us with friends, family, and the wider world. But while scrolling through the never-ending feeds can be entertaining and sometimes even informative, it’s essential to be aware of the pros and cons social media can have on your mental health.
The Negative Effects of Social Media on Your Mental Health
Social media can come with a dark side. Learn more about the 5 negative effects of social media.
Fear of Missing Out
One of the potential downsides of social media is the constant exposure to details about other people’s lives. This unfortunately leads to comparison against our own lives. No matter what social media app you use, you can be sure to see people living their best lives and sometimes wishing you were in their shoes. It’s crucial to recognize the fine line between delight and dependency. FOMO (fear of missing out) can make us feel left out when others post their highlight reels online. It’s important to remember that that’s all it is — curated moments and not the whole picture.
Comparison is something we have all experienced. Scrolling through the picture-perfect lives of others can ignite feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt, how we feel about ourselves, and where our place in society should be. There are theories about the three types of self: the actual self, the ideal self (whom we would like to be), and the think self (what we think we should be). There are instances where the lines between these selves become blurred and confused, social media being one of them. The antidote lies in reminding ourselves that social media is merely a highlight reel. Focus on your journey, embrace your unique qualities, and celebrate the small victories along the way. Remember, comparison is the thief of joy, so try to avoid it as much as possible and bask in the uniqueness of everyone — including yourself.
The Dopamine Hit
Did you know that each ‘like’ on your carefully crafted post can release a mini dopamine rush in your brain? A study suggests that before social media, the reward circuit (the feeling and release of dopamine) mainly occurred through non-social stimuli like money, food, and drugs. But now, it’s hypothesized that our neural systems have evolved to include social interactions like those we experience on social media apps. However, the continued pursuit of likes can lead to a never-ending cycle of seeking external validation. Remember: your worth is not determined by the number of likes or followers you accumulate. The key lies in cultivating self-love and nurturing genuine connections beyond the virtual realm.
The Echo Chamber Effect
Have you ever voiced your opinion in a group, and everyone agrees with everything you say? While it can feel validating, it can also be harmful. The Echo Chamber Effect refers to an online or offline environment where we are exposed primarily to information, opinions, and perspectives that align with our existing beliefs and values. It’s a chorus of voices reinforcing and echoing our thoughts.
Algorithms play a significant role in creating echo chambers as they analyze your online behaviour by taking into account the posts you engage with, the pages you follow, and the content you interact with the most. Based on this data, social media platforms curate your feed to show you more of what they think you want to see, effectively filtering out information that contradicts your beliefs, values, and opinions. While this may seem cozy and comfortable, it can inadvertently limit your exposure to diverse viewpoints, challenging ideas, and alternative perspectives. The result is a skewed perception of reality, where your own opinions are constantly reinforced, and conflicting viewpoints are often absent. Echo chambers can lead to confirmation bias, where we can become increasingly resistant to new information that challenges our beliefs. This can hinder critical thinking and open dialogue and create a polarized digital landscape.
Trolls and Cyberbullies
Unfortunately, social media platforms are not immune to bullying. Online bullies intend to harass, intimidate, or harm others, and their actions can significantly negatively impact their targets’ mental health and well-being. Trolls are known for their disruptive and provocative behaviour. They may leave comments that dig deep as they seek retaliation to continue the vicious cycle, engage in personal attacks, or deliberately provoke arguments and conflicts. Their goal is to elicit emotional responses, disrupt online conversations, and often hide behind anonymity. This gives them a sense of invincibility, allowing them to act without facing any immediate consequences.
Cyberbullying can take various forms. This can include spreading rumours, sharing personal information without consent, sending threatening messages, or creating derogatory memes or images. Cyberbullying extends beyond the confines of school or work, as it can happen 24/7, making it particularly distressing for the victims. The impact of trolls and cyberbullies on mental health can be significant. Constant exposure to negative and hurtful comments can increase stress, anxiety, and depression. Victims may experience feelings of shame, low self-esteem, and social isolation. The 24/7 nature of online platforms can make it challenging for individuals to escape the relentless onslaught of abusive behaviour, intensifying the psychological toll.
The Positive Side of Social Media
Like most things, social media can have a positive effect on mental health too.
Connection and Support
Online platforms allow us to connect and build communities across geographical boundaries. The apps can help us find support networks, connect with like-minded people, and share experiences. This fosters a sense of belonging, reducing feelings of isolation.
Information and Awareness
Social media can be a valuable source of information on all topics. Organizations, advocacy groups, and individuals use social media platforms to raise awareness, share resources, and provide education.
Online Support Groups
For those struggling with mental health or other issues, online groups provide a space for like-minded people to share challenges, seek advice, and offer support to one another. Engaging with others who can relate can provide comfort, validation, and a sense of community.
Expression and Creativity
Social media is a tool to dive into self-expression and creativity. Through sharing personal stories, artwork, music, or writing, online platforms are an outlet for our emotions, thoughts, and interests. This creative expression can be cathartic and empowering.
Positive Content and Inspiration
Social media is filled with positive and uplifting content as well. From motivational quotes to inspiring stories, these platforms can provide daily doses of positivity, encouragement, and motivation. Engaging with such content can positively impact our mood, boosting feelings of happiness and our well-being.
A Balanced Approach to Social Media
The relationship between mental health and social media is profound. From the dopamine rush of ‘likes’ to the treacherous pitfalls of comparisonitis. That’s why it’s key to navigate the online realm with caution and self-awareness. By embracing self-care, practicing digital detox, and cultivating meaningful connections, we can harness the power of social media while preserving our mental well-being. Feeling like you need support navigating or limiting social media use? A Wellin5 counsellor is available.