Is social media bad for our mental health

Social media is a huge part of a majority of our lives. But is this having a negative effect on our mental health?
A poll of 1500 14-24 year olds recently revealed that social media sites (such as Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat and Twitter) have increased their feelings of inadequacy and anxiety.

Poll – https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/may/19/popular-social-media-sites-harm-young-peoples-mental-health

Out of all of these, Instagram has been deemed the worst social media platform for this (probably because it’s predominately image focused). The poll revealed that social media poses body image worries, worsens bullying, promotes sleep problems and increases the likelihood of obtaining anxiety, depression and loneliness. On the other hand, the poll also praised social media for the following reasons: self-expression, self-identity, and emotional support.
So let’s divide this post into positives and negatives and look at the question in further detail. We’ll start with the negatives so that we can end on a positive note.

The negatives…

1. Firstly, it is not unknown for social media to be perceived as a filtered sense of reality. We usually only show the most positive aspects of our lives. And this is okay – it’s great to post the positives. However, it does sometimes mean that it leads to people critically comparing their own life with others which gives them a false measure of successes and failures. This is where it can get dangerous.

2. With a false sense of complete reality out there, insecurities lead to low self-esteem particularly with image focused accounts such as Instagram and Snapchat.

3. Expectations of what the ‘perfect’ body looks like (if there is such a thing) can lead to insecurities, body dysmorphia, and depression particularly with the opportunity to edit photos alongside the list of ever growing filters – insecurities are only on the rise.

4. Sleep problems are also heavily influenced by social media. We’ve all heard the stories, perhaps even guilty of them ourselves – where we’ve stayed up until 3am watching YouTube videos and browsing Facebook and Instagram before realising the time.

5. Cyber-bullying is unfortunately a negative element of social media and is something that cannot be ignored.

The positives…

1. Social media isn’t all negative. In fact it’s a very powerful tool which can enable us to reach more people. For me, this is great as it allows me to raise more awareness for mental health. For others, it has helped them raise awareness and money for charity projects on which they may be working.

2. There is also an opportunity to reach people who are also passionate in the same areas as you. For example, I have connected with other mental health ambassadors and also those who are on the road to recovery. This is great as you can be (almost!) in a world where stigma doesn’t exist.

3. There’s also the benefit of tailoring your online community to those you want to follow and those you don’t. You can also block unwanted negativity from your pages (which proves more difficult to do within the real world).

4. Through social media, I have found that myself and others have used it to display their journey but also to begin the road to recovery. The first step of recovery is acceptance and social media can actually help you to do that – whether you want to share your personal story or not. So in a way, social media can actually help those with mental health conditions.

To summarise…

Are we more comfortable online than we are in the ‘real’ world?

I think this is the question we need to consider. From here we can decide as individuals whether social media has a positive or negative impact on our lives. Social media can be great, but like many things it does carry negatives along with it. It’s important to get the balance right. Although social media can be a great way to communicate in the modern world, it is not healthy to invest too much time into it. Real life friendships and communication are incredibly important and should not be overlooked.

Mentalhealth.org recently posted a blog post (https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/blog/social-media-and-young-peoples-mental-health) which shares signs to help you identify whether you are being adversely affected by social media. I have posted them below so that you can make a personal judgement as to whether you think social media may be affecting you in a negative way.

Personal review…

• Do you have low self-esteem?
• Do you feel low when you see other people’s images and lifestyle?
• Do you envy other people’s lives/wish your life was like someone else’s?
• Do you consider social media as your first and only choice of activity done for enjoyment?
• Recently feel disconnected and don’t have as many face-to-face conversations with your relatives and friends?
• Being unable to do anything without feeling you need to share it online?

This appeared as a guest blog I wrote for worthliving.co

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