Mental health and social media: friends or foe?

Social media is addictive, there’s no doubt about it. It’s always the first thing I look at in the morning and often the last thing I look at before I go to sleep. I check in on my social feeds regularly throughout the day… more often than I really should. Social media is both the main way I keep up-to-date with news and with my friends — and I know I’m not alone in these habits.

What impact does this have on our mental health?

Social media use is at an all-time high; so are cases of anxiety, depression, insomnia… the list goes on. Numerous studies have found that social media usage feeds anxiety and generally makes people feel inadequate.

According to research from the University of Essex, many of us suffer from a Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) and a desire to stay continually connected with what others are doing. It was found that people under 30 were more likely to fear they were missing out, which makes sense when you consider that they are the first generation to have grown up with social media and digital technologies.

Individuals suffering from FOMO were more likely to have deprived psychological needs (particularly the needs for competence, autonomy and relatedness), and they were more likely to be using social media in general. This does however raise a question — does an increase in social media usage lead to these feelings of deprivation, or do individuals already feeling this way find themselves drawn to social media in order to compare their own life with that of their peers?

Yet, things are not always what they seem. It’s also a well-know fact that people share the very best things in their lives on social media, so if you’re passively watching and consuming content on social media it’s likely that you’ll have a very filtered view of reality.

Is social media really all bad?

Although the case against social media may initially sound gloomy, it does have a positive role to play — both in terms of raising mental heath awareness and helping those who suffer from mental health issues.

Social media can help open up a whole new world to people who feel isolated, and allow them to foster friendships and maintain those that they may otherwise have let slide. It can also open individuals up to new ideas and experiences, and generally build resilience.

It can also give those who suffer from mental health problems a voice, allowing them to help break down the stigma. Campaigns such as #MedicatedandMighty have helped people to open up and get talking — which in turn helps others to feel less lonely and isolated.

Taking a break

Have you ever undertaken a ‘digital detox’? It’s becoming increasingly popular as a way of off-setting some of the negative side effects of social media. Taking a break has been found to have huge benefits, including:

  • Reduced symptoms of depression
  • Lessening of anxiety — made even more effective by taking a break from smartphone entirely
  • Better sleep — technology and social media has been found to disrupt sleep patterns

This year I have challenged myself to have a day a week (starting with an evening a week) where I completely take a break from social media. As someone who suffers from anxiety, depression and hugely disrupted sleep, I’m interested to see how my ‘detox’ (or breaks) will help. Watch this space!