Many people have a love-hate relationship with social media, which begs the question: how does social media affect mental health? Social media is a polarizing topic, but the key to managing usage is balance.
Learn the effects of social media on mental health and how to prevent negative consequences to your well-being.
Social Media and Mental Health
Despite being around for years, social media and its effects on mental health remain scarcely studied. By examining the link between social media use and its potential to cause depression, anxiety, and loneliness, experts can predict its long-term consequences and provide programs for afflicted children and teenagers.
In addition, studying how social media affects mental health can inform policymakers and regulatory bodies who strive to promote positive online environments.
Understanding the impact of social media on one’s psyche can also empower users to make more informed choices about their online activities, adopting healthier usage patterns.
The Role of Social Media in Mental Health Stigmas
The stigmatization of mental health by the media is not uncommon. In the aftermath of unconscionable acts of violence, many are quick to take to social media to label the perpetrator as “crazy,” when, in fact, they are often victims themselves.
On social media, users tend to focus on the individual using their mental illness as an “excuse” instead of considering mental illness to be a societal issue. Thus, many individuals become subject to overgeneralization.
For instance, the media often suggests that all schizophrenic people hallucinate. In fact, only about 60% of schizophrenic people have auditory hallucinations, with an even smaller percentage of patients experiencing visual hallucinations [*].
In addition, social media interpretations of mental illnesses often trivialize people’s experiences, oversimplifying symptoms and appropriating mental illness terminology. For instance, someone with deep organizational habits might use the hashtag #OCD on an Instagram or TikTok post.
Positive Effects of Social Media on Mental Health
Despite many negative encounters on social media, there are reasons people can’t get enough of it. Here are a few positive effects of having a social media presence.
Most people become active on social media to connect with others and share similar experiences. Keeping friends and family accessible fosters a sense of belonging and can positively impact well-being.
Access to information
Social media offers a wealth of information regarding anything on the spectrum. If you’re looking for it, you’ll find it online.
In addition, social media is now a melting pot of mental health resources. It can help individuals access help or guidance they might not have otherwise sought.
Many campaigns and initiatives on social media aim to raise awareness about mental health, debunk myths, and provide accurate information, contributing to a better-informed society.
Expression and creativity
Platforms offer spaces for self-expression, creativity, and sharing personal stories. This can be therapeutic, empowering individuals to express themselves and find their voice.
Channels like TikTok have featured thousands of visual artists, performing artists, and creatives from all walks of life. In addition, platforms like Pinterest and Instagram have fostered similar communities.
Negative Effects of Social Media on Mental Health
As we’ve mentioned, social media isn’t always harmonious. Occasionally, it can breed extreme negativity, especially when users fail to practice boundaries. Here are a few examples of how social media affects mental health negatively.
Continuous exposure to carefully curated, idealized images and lifestyles on social media can lead to feelings of inadequacy, fostering a comparison culture and negatively impacting self-esteem.
Naturally, people on social media tend to share highlights—not the negative aspects of their lives, reinforcing unrealistic standards, especially for young social media users. In particular, teenagers might develop envious feelings and dissatisfaction.
Addiction and time pressure
According to a study by the University of Michigan, roughly 210 million people have an addiction to social media [*]. An instant need for gratification through social media can lead to impulsive behaviors and even anger issues.
Fear of Missing Out (FOMO)
Teenagers, in particular, are especially afflicted by a Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) when they see their peers are having a better time than they are. The desire to join or outdo their peers can cause teenagers to act impulsively and irrationally or develop low self-esteem.
Signs That Social Media is Adversely Affecting Your Mental Health
Simply put, social media affects different people differently. Some find a manageable balance between social media and daily, real-life tasks, while others find themselves becoming stressed, agitated, and depressed. Here are a few signs social media may be negatively impacting your mental health:
- You’re spending more time on social media than with in-person friends: You may find that social media has become a viable substitute for real-life interactions. Even in the presence of friends, you might check your social media accounts obsessively.
- You’re constantly distracted and abandoning daily tasks: You may experience decreased productivity in daily tasks, work, and school. Perhaps you’re procrastinating your tasks or not doing them at all.
- You’re demonstrating physical self-neglect symptoms: You may neglect basic needs like eating, bathing, and getting enough sleep. You might develop headaches, eye strain, and general fatigue.
- You’re experiencing worsened anxiety and depression: If you already suffer from anxiety and depression, exposing yourself to constant comparison can exacerbate symptoms.
Tips for Maintaining Positive Mental Health While Using Social Media
Social media doesn’t have to be a negative force in your life. Through time management, you can strike a healthy balance between being online and immersed in the real world. Here are a few tips for managing your social media usage.
Reduce the amount of time you spend on social media
A study by the University of Pennsylvania found that reducing screen time by just 30 minutes daily eased symptoms of anxiety, depression, and loneliness [*]. While shooting for a full social media detox is unrealistic for most individuals, there are ways you can reduce usage, such as:
- Turning off your phone before bedtime or at certain times of the day
- Disabling social media notifications while at work or school
- Limiting social media checks to once every hour
Spend more time with friends and family
Social connections allow us to thrive. Having face-to-face company is healthy and meaningful. Set aside time each week to spend with friends and family.
If you’ve neglected old friendships, consider contacting old acquaintances or meeting new friends by joining a class or club.
Engage in physical activity
Studies have found that a healthy balance of physical activity directly correlates to life satisfaction [*]. Being chronically online puts you at risk of developing a sedentary lifestyle, which can negatively impact your energy levels.
A little exercise can go a long way by releasing much-needed endorphins and encouraging you to be more immersed in your surroundings.
The Bottom Line
Social media is a double-edged sword. While it’s rife with valuable information and provides opportunities for online connections, it can take away from meaningful relationships and cause people to neglect their health and well-being.
Striking a balance between online and real-world experiences is imperative for managing depression, fostering meaningful friendships, and catering to your needs.
If your child or teenager is having trouble managing their social media usage, use our social skills worksheets to reinforce what it means to have healthy, nurturing friendships.
- Waters et al. “Visual Hallucinations in the Psychosis Spectrum and Comparative Information From Neurodegenerative Disorders and Eye Disease.” Schizophrenia Bulletin, 2014.
- Longstreet P and Brooks SL. “Life satisfaction: A key to managing internet & social media addiction.” Technology in Society, 2017.
- Hsin et al. “The Relationships between Physical Activity and Life Satisfaction and Happiness among Young, Middle-Aged, and Older Adults.” International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 2020.