Social interaction is a necessary and healthy part of life. Feelings of community and autonomy are crucial to wellness, so it’s no wonder that people gravitate toward social media apps to express themselves and share their daily accomplishments. Filters, stickers, chat features and in-app purchases make using social media entertaining and exciting. And whether these sites and apps are used appropriately or inappropriately, they are proven to affect mental health.
Being mindful of mental health
According to Pew Research Center, “72% of Americans use social media,” and so do “97% of teens between 13-17 years old.” With the overwhelming majority of people using social media, it’s important to examine the impact it may have on mental health and emotional well-being.
How social media can positively impact mental health
Evidence shows that when used appropriately, social media can be a force of good. Read this list of social media pros:
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1. Expressing feelings
Between live streaming, uploading videos, showcasing artwork, creating memes and sharing posts, there is no shortage of ways to express your feelings and creativity online. Social media apps and forums offer users a wide variety of opportunities to share their ideas, concerns and creations. Having an outlet to express yourself is crucial for personal well-being. Most social media apps allow users to create original content and upload links, gifs and memes. This gives people a place to share their thoughts and feelings with the world.
2. Staying connected
Social media also offers friends and family members a way to stay connected. During times of isolation or long-distance separation, people can easily stay up-to-date on each other’s lives by perusing pictures and posts. Liking or commenting on these posts helps people feel connected, and live streaming features, as well as video calling options, allow people to connect in a meaningful way even when they are apart.
Maintaining in-depth interpersonal relationships is important for mental health and physical well-being. According to the Mayo Clinic, “Good friends are good for your health. Friends can help you celebrate good times and provide support during bad times. Friends prevent loneliness and give you a chance to offer needed companionship…[And] adults with strong social support have a reduced risk of many significant health problems, including depression, high blood pressure, and an unhealthy body mass index (BMI). Studies have even found that older adults with a rich social life are likely to live longer than their peers with fewer connections.”
3. Finding community
Beyond relationship maintenance, social media also provides a platform for people to develop new connections and find community. People with special interests or unique circumstances may sometimes feel limited by their physical location. Social apps and virtual groups can lessen this sense of isolation, and bring people together from all over the world.
This is especially important for people with disabilities or chronic illnesses. Licensed therapist and National Board Certified Health and Wellness Coach Kathy Honeyman notes the significant impact that social media has had during the pandemic. “I work with adults with disabilities,” she says. “Many of them have difficulty getting out and socializing in their community, even prior to the pandemic. Social media enables them to reach out and connect with a world of others [who are similar].”
4. Making money
From Etsy to Artfire, there is an abundance of places for artists, artisans, influencers and entrepreneurs to sell their products online. Tik Tok reels, Instagram stories, Facebook pages and YouNow moments make it easy for people to promote and advertise their merchandise to a wide variety of customers. Making social media an ideal resource for people looking to make money.
Additionally, sites like LinkedIn and JobCase help people expand their professional network and find jobs. With access to a wide array of virtual conferences and other educational experiences, users can bolster their skills and advance in their careers. According to a study conducted by Social Science & Medicine, financial freedom and career achievement are strongly linked to mental health, making this another reason why social media has the potential to make a positive impact on those who use it.
5. Accessibility of resources
Many social media platforms are responding to the need for mental health resources by designing in-app features and hashtags that promote awareness and access to help and care. For example, in late 2021, Snapchat partnered with mental health organizations to create Here For You, a feature that offers information and support for those dealing with trauma and crisis. Also, according to their site, they “partnered with Headspace to launch a Mini [Headspace] within Snapchat to provide a safe space for friends to practice meditation and mindfulness exercises while sending encouraging messages to check in and positively boost friends in need.”
Negative impact of social media on mental health
Unfortunately, all this positivity does not come without a counterpart. Read this list of social media cons:
1. Developing unrealistic expectations
While sharing videos and photos helps people develop and maintain meaningful connections, science tells us that the way these photos are altered and curated produces an unrealistic beauty standard which may contribute to low self-esteem. In an interview about a social media filters study with Marie Claire, Dr. Mariam Adegoke explained, “Study results showed that manipulating selfies (i.e. through use of filters), led to greater body-related concerns. And in a catch twenty-two, those who are dissatisfied with their image are more likely to use a filter, further reinforcing the negative belief that how they look is not good enough.”
2. Falling victim to cyberbullying
The anonymity of the internet can be a breeding ground for internet trolls and cyberbullies. While many people use social media to create a positive and healthy space for others, some use it to attack people and gain an emotional advantage. With instant notifications, hashtags and the immediacy of viral memes, social media allows a bully into their victim’s home and personal life both day and night.
3. Spreading of misinformation
Information moves quickly in the digital age. With less time to vet sources and more priority placed on entertainment and shock value, it can be hard to know what information is accurate and factual. For this reason, news in the form of social media content may cause problems for users.
Social media teacher and TikTok phenomenon, Rebecca Rogers warns, “There can be misinformation coursing through a platform that many people believe.” Putting a lot of stock in misinformation can cause anxiety, depression and fear.
4. Disconnecting with the physical world
Most of us can agree that dating apps, meetup sites, online profiles, and vlogs help people find community and connections. However, when overused–or when used to avoid contact with others–social media can actually cause isolation and loneliness.
Using social media responsibly
Knowing the impact that social media can have on mental health is important. Fueled with information, people can make a conscious effort to support positivity online as well as responsible social media use.
Influencer and best-selling author Shyla Day reminds us that we have the power to control the way we use and respond to social media.
“Social Media really is what you make of it,” she says. “I personally like to compare it to our lifestyles. When we think of our lifestyle and health, we think of eating more vegetables and exercising more. But many people forget that the materials that we consume on social media are equally important.”
She asks social media users to be conscious about what they consume online, saying, “Begin to turn it around by interacting only with content you’d love to see more of, and sooner than later, your feed will feel a lot clearer!”
Here are six actions you can take to help ensure that responsible social media use:
- Designate time in the day to step away from social media.
- Avoid the regular use of beauty filters.
- Be open and honest when posting about your life.
- Remember to spread kindness and positivity when commenting on people’s posts.
- Be conscious of information loops, echo chambers and algorithms.
- Utilize in-app resources that facilitate mental health and well-being.
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